Lisa Abbott Moore shares her experience as a Speech Language Pathologist in Cambodia.
Cambodia is a Southeast Asian nation whose landscape spans low-lying plains, the Mekong Delta, mountains, and Gulf of Thailand coastline. It is situated in the southwest corner of the Indochina Peninsula and bounded by Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. The profession of Speech Language Pathology has spanned the globe, but is just emerging in Cambodia. Speech Therapy Cambodia is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) dedicated to addressing the needs of adults with speech, language, and swallowing disorders, as well as training qualified professionals to provide these services.
This summer, I had the pleasure of being invited by Elizabeth (Betsy) Chafcouloff, CEO of Speech Therapy Cambodia, to Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. My main purpose was to teach a course on childhood speech language and swallowing disorders at the University of Putisathra. Following a 22 hour flight, I arrived in this magical place where I was immediately captivated by the sights, sounds, and the people of Cambodia! After my flight I needed some serious rest – 17 hours to be exact, and I believe Betsy was worried I would not wake up!
The next few days we began our work at a local hospital, Khmer Soviet, with a tour of the facilities and a visit to Operation Smile. Of course, we arrived in style via Tuk Tuk!
I observed Betsy teaching the physiotherapy students who were learning about swallowing disorders, and was able to have my turn in teaching neuro-anatomy and how to perform a bedside swallowing examination. This is a complex topic to teach to English speaking students, and I did use an interpreter (Phivan) to make communication easier. The students did so well, quickly learning this information and discussing some patients they had recently seen with swallowing problems.
There are three hospitals where Betsy teaches, Calmette, Kossamak, and Khmer Soviet. My second assignment was at Kossamak Hospital, where I again taught physiotherapists and nursing professionals about swallowing disorders and intervention. These students were equally as prepared, engaged, and quick to learn the tasks at hand.
Of course, Betsy took good care of me, and kept me well fed . Fried tarantulas are actually a delicacy in Cambodia, so I had to try them. I must admit that initially I did not think I could eat a spider, but after I actually tasted it, I realized it was quite yummy.
I returned to Khmer Soviet to do rounds with the physio students as they evaluated a woman with both speech and swallowing issues after her recent stroke. Dr. Samnag and I decided to do a Flexible Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) exam and I happily assisted with this procedure.
I toured the National Pediatric Hospital where Allin is doing fantastic job serving pediatric patients with cleft lip and palate. Allin has been trained in Taiwan to provide services to children with cleft lip and palate. We saw about five babies that day. Some of the families have traveled over eight hours to see her. Allin educated families on swallowing and speech stimulation.
Betsy and I taught a large classroom of midwife and nursing students at the University of Putisathra, with the support of our super translator, Phivan. Two full days of learning peaked their interest to request more!
My duties were not over after teaching our class! I evaluated a five year old child with Autism and provided education and support for the family on stimulating language, traveled by Tuk Tuk to an outlying Catholic mission to the assess needs of children with developmental disabilities, provided a needs assessment to “Teachers in Cambodia,” and assisted with hiring a qualified SLP.
My work in Cambodia was a lifetime learning experience that enriched my professional skills, as well as my personal life. I am forever grateful to Betsy and Speech Therapy Cambodia for this wonderful opportunity to advocate for my profession and to help adults with speech and swallowing disorders.
I made lifetime colleagues, lifetime friends, and lifetime memories.
Goodbye Cambodia! Until we meet again.
This blog originally appeared on Speech Therapy Cambodia.