To Cambodia with Love

Chow Yin Ting, Year 3, Medicine

I am eager to be a part of the service team because there are not many service trips as medically oriented as this one. This also explains why I decided to join the social service trip the second time and have gained so much fruitful experience. My first time going to Cambodia was very exciting and I experienced lots of fascinating discoveries. This time, serving together with the participants from S.H. Ho College and Yuanpei College, Peking University, I developed a more profound understanding on the underprivileged groups in Cambodia.

Although the participants are from different faculties and universities, we worked together as a team. Some volunteers conducted the survey on the street, visiting residents in the village and some of us stay at clinic to help out. As a medical student to be promoted to Year 3, I participated mostly in clinical service, especially in the triage registration area focusing on enquiring patients’ history. I found it fulfilling to apply the knowledge obtained in medical school and clinical attachment, where I know the skills of clarifying patients’ complaints. Attaching to doctors is another valuable experience as they teach me what to eliminate when a patient presents with certain symptoms. I did experience why people say ‘arriving at a diagnosis is like being a detective’: to diagnose a patient and adopt proper measures with medical knowledge.

Paying home-visits to the residents on the Dumping Hill helped us understand their lives more thoroughly. Most of us were surprised that their living condition was not as desperate as we had imagined, though the conditions were still too challenging for urban dwellers. The residents are optimistic in general and have high expectation on improving their lives, which are very encouraging to us as urban dwellers enjoying better living standard. They might think we brought them hope and help; however, it was the residents who taught us how to face life, even when life is hard.

We visited the Happyland Orphanage resided by the children who are mostly HIV-positive. I was surprised that some orphans recognized me even though I just came there the second time. We had a great time together playing games and visiting their hostels. But when they voiced out their wish to meet us again, my heart ached as I had to tell them the truth: ‘Dear, I may not come back next year. Study hard, my little one. Be a good person. Trust me, you will have a great future ahead.’ I will never forget their adorable smiles. It is really a heartbreaking that our path of life might not cross with each other again.

In the debriefing session, Professor Tsang guided us to talk about the meaning of poverty which inspired many insightful opinions among us. For me, I believe Cambodia has been improving under the help of non-government organizations (NGO). Heavy reliance on NGOs, however, may not be effective enough for sustainable improvement. If the political system and the prevalent social problems like bribery do not improve, the days of Cambodians will still be hard. The vicious cycle never stops unless the government makes substantial improvements. What we are doing is to offer external support, providing aids to those in needs and making small changes wherever we go. I hope that with our survey findings will offer the Cambodia government valuable insights to take up more responsibility to care about the underprivileged.

The service trip introduced to me how a doctor can contribute in developing countries, for instance, to arrive at a diagnosis without the help of advanced imaging techniques. With only physical examination and history taking, we can actually do a lot more than we thought to help the patients. This is a new perspective to me as a doctor. I am really thankful to the College for organizing such a meaningful service trip.