24 Nov Guest Blog: Finding Myself in Cambodia

By Andy Tan

Hi everybody! My name is Andy Tan and I am one of the nine Agents of Change from the EMBRACE Program developed by Youth Challenge International and ADRA Canada. I am so happy to be writing you from Sandan, Kompong Thom in Cambodia after a long and busy week of activities, programs, and ultimately… FUN! This blog explains my goals, personal and professional development, and observations on the field so I hope this provides you insight on what I have been able to experience thus far. Let’s get started!

Prior to my departure in Toronto, I had two goals in mind: to develop 1) personally and 2) professionally. It is safe to say that after two weeks here in Cambodia, I have exceeded my pre-departure expectations and grown tremendously from a personal standpoint. This was my first international trip outside of North America and doing so without family and “strangers” made it even more nerve-wracking. However, these once “strangers” have now become my family as we have fought for one another, supported each other on our lows, but most importantly celebrated wonderful successes together as a team. Another huge personal goal of this trip was to find out more about my culture and ultimately, who I am as a first-generation Canadian of Chinese-Cambodian descent. Yes, in my household there are existing Cambodian cultural practices but I really wanted an e,mic perspective of all the childhood stories my mother would tell me as she grew up as a child in the Svay Rieng Province. This trip has brought my mother’s stories to life as they manifested in nearly all of our daily activities in the project villages. I was certainly a “momma’s boy” before, but now I have developed an unprecedented amount of respect for her and her abilities to persevere through adversity, especially during the Khmer Rouge era. I see the very same resilience and strength in her as I do in so many other wonderful Cambodian mothers and families I have met so far. If you are reading this mom, thank you so much and I love you with all my heart!

My second objective of this experience was to develop professionally. As a fourth year nursing student from Ryerson University, I have a passion for global health nursing with a focused lens on health equity, health teaching and education, and capacity building. Through my observations of the current practices of the EMBRACE project, there were many areas where I saw staff members performing well beyond my expectations! Prior to the implementation of the project, health access and education were often challenges that mothers faced due to a lack of existing resources and services in these remote areas. This lead to high maternal and infant death rates that could be easily prevented if their social and environmental conditions were improved. Now, the project is currently implemented at three districts (Rovieng, Sandan, and Choam Ksant districts), which may sound quite insignificant in scope but in actuality reaches out to more than 168 villages and 120 000+ Cambodians. As displayed, the issue of health equity is significantly being improved upon as more mothers and families in remote and disadvantaged villages are receiving accessible health care.

In terms of health teaching and capacity building, there were a variety of methods implemented to teach and engage the community in order to develop their capacities. I witnessed and participated in the various teaching methods that ADRA Cambodia employed including large group discussions, small group discussions, kinesthetic teaching, visual demonstrations, and even large community engagements such as marches and rallies. Each technique was meticulously determined to maximize the group’s participation and learning of the topic at hand. The topics discussed in these forums addressed multiple nursing best practices such as maternal/newborn nutrition, breastfeeding, antenatal care, as well as other community nursing concepts such as community development, advocacy, and empowerment. Whether the activities were directly related to nursing or not, I was able to see that they were all tailored towards increasing the capacities of mothers, fathers, and children towards ultimately achieving health for all. However, what amazed me the most about this trip was how dedicated, personable, and friendly the ADRA staff members were in engaging the community members during the activities. I was astonished at how they were able to deliver rather boring and complex information to groups with significantly low educational backgrounds in a fun, engaging, and effective way. Whether it be women, men, or children groups, each facilitator had a distinct ability to teach groups through true humanistic connection. I will definitely take this with me back to Toronto and improve my own practice as a prospective nurse.

In conclusion, if I had to describe my experience here in Cambodia in one word, it would be… life-changing. Life-changing because this was my first experience travelling outside of North America by myself. Life-changing because I am returning to the birthplace of my parents where I no longer have to listen to the vicarious experiences of my parents but rather, completely immerse myself into the very core of the community to truly experience the “Cambodia” way for myself. And lastly, it has been life-changing to be able to observe, learn, and absorb everything this beautiful country and culture has to offer. This blog post was a small glimpse of my experience thus far so I look forward to giving you more updates in the near future… Until next time!

Want to become an agent of change? Check out all current EMBRACE opportunities in the field here.