In April 2013, the Semiahmoo Dental Team travelled to the village of Pryouth to operate a dental clinic for its impoverished residents. There were 13 members on the team, including five dentists (ICD Fellows Ken Stones and Les Ennis, Davis Larsen, Liz Johnson-Lee, Rick Tabata), one hygienist, three CDAs, a physician, and four helpers, all from BC.
The ICD funding we received for this project was of tremendous assistance. It provided for the needed supplies and equipment, including required on-site rentals.
Our host was Reaksa Himm, is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the 1970s. At the age of 13, after witnessing the killing of 13 of his family members, he escaped to a Thai refugee camp and eventually came to Canada as a refuge in the early 80s. He returned to Cambodia a few years ago to help the people of his former village.
We set up our clinic in Reaksa’s church. We had four restorative units in place and an extraction station. We treated as many people as we could see over the five days scheduled for the clinic, and taught prevention to many members of the community, including a few community leaders. There were several local volunteers to help with our work and translate for us. Our main focus was the children of the area.
We had many mechanical challenges due to the erratic electrical supply. The available electricity was not sufficient to power the compressor we had brought in from Phnom Phen. Fortunately, one of the team members, Andrew Nutma, a consummate electrician (and extraordinary all round handyman), eventually rewired the clinic building, wiring the building to a rental generator and rerouting the incoming power exclusively to the compressor. This enabled the smooth functioning of our equipment as well as the building. We also experienced an unusual amount of equipment malfunctioning and breakdown due to the high temperatures (+35C) but were able to make the necessary repairs.
We treated many patients, shared prevention strategies, experienced the hospitality of wonderful Cambodians, and were exposed to the Cambodian culture and history, notably the horrific era of the Khmer Rouge regime and the resilience of the Cambodian people.
The unexpected always occurs on such outreach trips, and the Cambodian experience was no exception. However, our biggest surprise was to find a ball hockey rink set up adjacent to our worksite. Cambodians certainly do not play Canadian-style hockey, but there were the nets, pads, and Canadian hockey sticks on display. Reaksa had learned to appreciate hockey when he was in Canada, and had imported his love of the game to the village. We of course were challenged to a game every evening after the clinic was over. On the first day, the 35 C temperatures with high humidity, on top of jet lag and a long work day, took their toll on us and we lost. Reaksa had a team of young twenty-ish men who seemed to play all the time, and made a strong first impression after our loss. On day two, Reaksa produced a plastic trophy cup labeled the “Cambodian Stanley Cup.” With this enticement, and after a good rest, we won the second game and were allowed to take the cup back to our hotel that night. It turned out that Andrew, our star electrician was also a really talented goalie. Several others Semiahmoo folks were also very good ball hockey players.