woman with dog

Renuka’s journey in Cambodia

May 5, 2016

My month-long adventure in Cambodia started with a series of Skype conversations with the OIC Cambodia team and pitching my university field placement ideas. The objective was to gain public health and international development field experience that aligned with OIC’s current activities and mission. After several conversations, we decided that my project would focus on the ‘Evaluation of the Social & Economic Impact of Establishing Speech Therapy Services in Cambodia’.

Arriving in Phnom Penh in December 2015, I was excited to take on various field activities, and research the social and economic impact. Over the month, I was included in OIC team meetings, external networking sessions, and events such as International Day for People with Disabilities and United Nations conferences.

Working in Phnom Penh provided an insight into the impact of limited health care services, specifically speech therapy. Having managed disability services in Australia, it was interesting to compare the service provision and needs in both countries.

The disability sector in Cambodia operates under a medical rather than a socially driven model. Within this context, it is clear that OIC have created a niche speech therapy service: specialising in person-centred strategies to build individual capacity.

Well-developed communication skills are an integral part of effective community engagement for any individual. OIC’s activities focus on communication and swallowing disabilities resulting from congenital or acquired disabilities, incorporating strategies into socially inclusive models.

There is a strong commitment towards sustainable and locally driven service provision. Through their efforts, OIC have enabled people to communicate effectively, participate in daily activities and improve their health status. For others, the support has given an opportunity to attend school, which will support them to take jobs in the future.

The cultural immersion I underwent in Cambodia was an interesting experience. The long tuktuk drives to work took me on a journey through the social fabric of Cambodia as they weaved from modern suburbs to poor areas. Due to traffic conditions and drivers getting lost unintentionally, there was plenty of time to reflect about life.

On the personal development front, it was great to get out of my comfort zone, and explore the sights and cultural events independently. There were always plenty of activities to do after work and the people I met along the way were always keen for an adventure. I had the opportunity to work in various locations and hold meetings in interesting cafes. The plethora of snacks available always tasted as interesting as their dubious labelling – some identified simply as ‘air, water and other ingredients’ – which left plenty for the imagination.

Even though one month is a short time to build a connection with any organisation, I felt valued by the OIC team. What was most striking in my travels across Cambodia was the dichotomy between a history that reflects torment and the gentleness of people, who show great resilience in the face of adversity. The Khmer way of life and the beautiful souls I met along the way have made a positive and lasting impression.

by Renuka Pantula