Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Critical Care Nurse's Journey to Cambodia

Dana Wright from Amherst, New York traveled to Cambodia with Americans for UNFPA in January of 2006. This is her story:

I have retired from hospital critical care nursing and have turned my focus to the health and education needs of women and girls worldwide. So when the invitation to travel to Cambodia came across my desk from Americans for UNFPA and the Foundation for Global Leadership I jumped at the chance to see for myself the plight of women there.

Cambodia is still recovering from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which killed some 4 million people from 1975 to 1979. Especially hard hit during that time were the professionals in all disciplines in the educated, literate class, sending the country back 100 years in my opinion. Now the country struggles to come into the 21st Century and needs help from the international community. UNFPA, and other UN agencies, give financial support and provide technical expertise to government agencies and the many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on the ground.

2007 Cambodia DelegationI was part of a small delegation of supporters of Americans for UNFPA traveling to Cambodia to learn more about UNFPA's programs to provide women's health care - including family planning and HIV prevention - and promote gender equality by improving education for girls, increasing their enrollment and decreasing their drop out rates.

Dana Wright traveled to Cambodia and shares her story. Now you can make a difference by donating to Americans for UNFPA. Your support funds critical programs for women, including family planning and HIV prevention.

UNFPA has been working in Cambodia for 12 years and despite continued progress, the country continues to face many challenges in poverty, health and education. For nine days we visited various UNFPA-funded NGOs doing heroic work in the slums, meeting the needs of people who lack both education and work skills. We visited projects that offer general education, vocational skills and health services to commercial sex workers and street children.

We visited a clinic, open to all, which offers HIV/AIDS testing and counseling where trained young people teach safe sexual practices to their peers to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. When we arrived, the teens were even having a dance lesson.

The Secretary of State for Health, Professor Huot Eng, told us of the difficulty of meeting so many health needs - especially the high rate of maternal and infant mortality during childbirth - with limited resources. Maternal mortality is estimated at 437 per 100,000 lives births (compared to eight in the United States). Deliveries typically happen at home with traditional birth attendants and hospitals are shunned by most people as unfriendly. We asked Professor Huot what he considered his most pressing priority and he told us trained OB/GYN nurses.

Professor Huot told us he was grateful for partnership with UNFPA, especially in gathering accurate census data that all branches of the government can use. (How can you evaluate your maternal health programs if you don't know how many women you have or how many die in childbirth?) The 1998 census was the first for Cambodia in three decades.

Eighty percent of the population (14 million) live in the rural areas with no electricity, paved roads, sewage treatment or running water. Access to trained nurses is limited. Since most girls drop out after primary school a pre-nursing student is scarce, indeed. The expense of tuition as well as board at a school in a city is beyond the means of most rural girls. Low pay and exposure to blood (HIV) also makes long-term commitment to nursing a problem in Cambodia.

An hour drive from the majestic temples of Angkor along a bumpy, dirt road is a tiny farming village where UNFPA funds a program where whole families come to dance and play a reproductive health quiz show. The teens answered questions about HIV/AIDS without embarrassment as their parents and grandparents looked on. UNFPA's Cambodia Goodwill Ambassador, Dr. Chea Samnang - an actor and singer, came along to this party with us and held the teens spellbound with a pep talk about being safe and staying in school.

Before our trip ended, we watched the sunset from the top of Angkor Wat and prayed for a more peaceful and progressive future for this beautiful country and its people.

If you are interested in traveling with Americans for UNFPA, please send us an e-mail at

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