Thursday, 26 September 2013

Prey Veng Revisited

I have just returned from 5 days in rural Cambodia.  Prey Veng province, where the Cambodian Midwives Association had organised a workshop, is a large and densely populated area with more than its fair share of poverty and over 300 midwives.  Wikipedia describes the provincial town:

 "This quaint town is off the usual tourist trail and is uncrowded. It houses several old dilapidated colonial homes. There is a large lake west of the city which is dry from March to August."

Co-incidentally, I used to live in Prey Veng from 1994-1996 and was very happy there.  Life was very simple; one of only 2 foreigners in the district town of Svay Antor we had no running water or electricity, just solar panels on the roof for lighting.  We ate Khmer food every day and wrote letters home for entertainment.  I worked with a community development programme, training traditional midwives and supporting community health services, as well as planting rice, delivering sacks of cement and drinking a lot of tea on walkabouts in the villages. 

I was overjoyed when the CMA wanted to conduct their workshop there, giving me the opportunity to return.  Their provincial branch had died and they had few members.  They planned to invite midwives from across the province, recruiting them to the CMA, providing some continuous professional education and vote for a new branch leader.

I travelled on the public bus ($2.50 per ticket compared to a minimum of $35 for a taxi).  It was a hot and squashed affair but got me back into the reality of Cambodia nicely after the luxury of my Phnom Penh hotel.
Getting off the Public Bus in Prey Veng with Nisay, my Khmer assistant
I stayed with Barb, a British Midwife who I have known for more than half my life and is a veteran of Cambodia.  It was wonderful to be in her traditional wooden Khmer home, sharing life with her family and having her company and invaluable input during our workshop.  Nisay, my Khmer assistant this week, is Barb's daughter so she enjoyed being back with her sister.  It was great to hear them giggling together!
Barb's House in Prey Veng

The shower at Barb's House

Kanika (Student Midwife) and Nisay (my assistant this week), Barb's daughters

Barb with her cat, Ginger
The workshop was a real milestone for the CMA and for our twinning project.  It was wonderful to see the executive team pulling together to organise an event.  Our short-term support for a part-time office administrator has meant there is someone in the office to get jobs done.  They had planned the timetable and executed it with little input from me except my speeches at the opening and closing events and my presence at the meeting with the provincial health chief.  This left me free to interview several people for our mid-term evaluation and to observe the event with a critical eye.  We visited a Health Centre in Prey Veng Town and the CMA members did some mentoring (in the very loosest sense!) with midwives there as well as meeting some mothers-to-be and engaging in some health promotion activities.  There's a whole other story in this tale but that's for another time!
Around 150 midwives (half of all the midwives in the province) attended one of the workshops and signed up for membership of the CMA and it now has a newly elected, enthusiastic branch leader.  We have negotiated with the Provincial Health Chief for two of our British midwife volunteers to come to Prey Veng sometime early next year to engage in some mentorship for the new branch leader, supporting her to support midwives across the province and training her as a trainer. 
Me with the newly elected branch leader of the CMA in Prey Veng
I have a sense of a job well-done, though there was much room for improvement.  It is real progress from the state of our project 6 months ago and I feel positive for the future.

Three of us travelled back to Phnom Penh today and decided to take a taxi so that we could stop on the way and visit some other health facilities.  It was also much more comfortable than the journey down and far quicker!  We went through Svay Antor past my old house which was unrecognisable, and though some of the villages where I used to work, all now accessible on tarmac-ed roads and much more developed.  Some people still recognised us though, and we also met some of the midwives who had been at our workshops and were delighted to show us round their workplaces.

Midwives in the newly re-furbished delivery room at Svay Antor Health Centre

My old house in Svay Antor.  When I lived there it had wooden steps, no brick-built room downstairs and an outside bathroom under the house, with no running water or electricity.  Unrecognisable now!

Barb and I meeting three midwives in Chrey Health Centre who had all been to our workshops this week and have signed up for CMA membership

The Delivery Room at Pear Reing District Hospital - 3 beds, no curtains

Operating theatre where caesarean sections are performed at Pear Reing District Referral Hospital

Barb helping a lady to breastfeed (note the heavy bag of ice on her abdomen.  They seem to use that here to prevent or treat post-partum haemorrhage!)


  1. Hello, My name is Ashley Dam and I'm a current PhD student looking to do research on maternal consumption practices in Prey Veng. Is there an email address I could better contact you at? I'm hopeful that you're still active on this blog. I've got loads of questions.


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