Dr. Francisco Javier Santos Heredoro, better known as Javier, is a professor at the San Pablo Ceu Medical School in Madrid. The university was contacted by PSE last year to recruit a team of medical students to organise a program during the summer camps to provide both medical treatment for monitors and health education for the children. Javier’s team includes three medical students, one nursing student, his daughter, who is a psychologist, and his son who looks after logistics. The team has been in Cambodia for ten days, preparing for the medical project with another of their teachers who left before the start, Rima Barhoum.
According to Javier, “the original idea was to give medical support not to the volunteers in the Central Camp of Phnom Penh, where there is an infirmary, but to those who are in the paillottes, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. With Marisa, we discussed the possibilities of a education program that would be adapted to different age groups. With the team they developed a program of classes on three topics: hygiene, infectious diseases, and drugs and sexual education. “We had to select students to come with us from the university, and some people had already come to us. We based our choices on personality and excellence in class, and I’m extremely happy with the team we have constructed. They are doing an amazing job.”
Of course, when they travel to different camps for the health classes, they bring medical equipment, because they often find children with very infected wounds or other symptoms.
Victoria, one of the medical students in the team, is really happy with the workshops they have done so far. She is especially proud of the outcome in the Teenagers’ camp, because it was the most challenging group to speak to in her opinion. They are the age group for whom the health education classes are most valuable, because they don’t necessarily learn about drugs and sexual health at school and they are exposed to situations every day for which they should be more informed. “With little children, it’s easy to capture their attention, because the lessons we want to transmit can be transformed into dances, songs and games”, adds Victoria. “With the teenagers, the day was better than we expected. We were a little nervous because teenagers can be intimidating. We didn’t think they would be very attentive or interested, but the exact opposite happened: they asked many questions and really participated in the activities. It gave us the impression that we relayed our message. It was a real success.”
During the first workshop, the team covered the topic of drugs, and whether the teenagers had had any experience with them, what different types they knew of, and what they thought the effects were on the body. The focus was on alcohol, nicotine, and methamphetamines, the latter being very popular in the poor neighbourhoods of Cambodia. The second workshop covered the topic of infectious diseases, both respiratory and digestive. The aim was to help the teenagers to identify symptoms of infection before it gets worse, but also to give advice on how to avoid infection in the first place: hand-washing before eating, consumption of clean water, storage of food in shaded areas, cooking food thoroughly, and not to sneeze or cough into your hands.
Bopha, a 19 year old teenager in the camp said: “I liked the workshop because they taught us how important it is to take care of ourselves. In school we had briefly talked about these things but today it was a lot clearer”.
This week the team visited Paillote 1 and Paillote 2 and spoke to young children about basic hygiene, teaching them a song on how to wash their hands. “They were very excited,” added Victoria, “and we gave them a blue bracelet so they would remember to wash their hands! Overall, the children were really receptive”.
Regarding future expectations of the program, Javier is very excited to develop a more elaborated program which will be adapted to the children’s ages and incorporated into the regular activities of the summer camps. “There are so many things we could do with this initiative, and we are definitely aiming to make this a long-term vocation. We have given all the teachers at PSE a booklet about health education, with the hope that the topic will be covered throughout the school year as well.”