Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Korsang - Serving Cambodian Drug Users With Dignity, Respect and Compassion

So after a fair few days of wondering whether I would actually be working at Korsang, I finally managed to visit the center, whoop! Anyone wanting more info on this NGO can visit the following link :-)

After some informal introductions and casual chitchat, I was shown around the center by the Director, Tango, he explained to me Korsang's vision and some of their current ongoing projects: including an alliance with the new Methadone clinic at the hospital and a nursery construction, which was being funded by UNICEF. Korsang seemed to have come quite a long way since they started up 6 years ago when there were only just 5 members of staff. The NGO was housed in an open space building and had recently expanded to the building next door which had become the shelter for woman drug users. There were makeshift beds lined up in both buildings where the occupants of the center lay, I was later told that there were around 80 people currently staying at the NGO. As the locals arrived they were patted down in order to ensure that they had no weapons or drugs.

I was also shown the medical room, I was told that they had neither doctor nor nurse, both these healthcare professionals had recently left and they were in the process of hiring new staff. The medical room was filled with first aid equipment and drugs (shame no one could use them), it seemed quite well equipped (I think I had low expectations based on everything else I had seen in Cambodia), so was pleasantly surprised! I met the medical team leader JB, and he told me how he had spent his previous night on call: a guy who got his leg caught in a moto wheel the night before. He also told me about some other injuries he'd seen: dismemberment, gangrene, child delivery. All this information was highly exciting and hoped I would be able to see something as remotely exciting as what he had told me about!

The next morning I showed up for my first day, which consisted of running jobs in the local hospital as well as some outreach to local drug users. At 8.30am I hopped in the tuktuk with 7 other volunteers and I went on my first outreach. We didn't need to go far to find the first drug users, just of the main road people were gathered around cooking up heroine and crystal meth, there were dirty syringes around and the users didn't look they had seen a bed in a long time. It was pretty intense seeing people shooting up that early in the morning, and I felt pretty helpless as I couldn't speak or understand Khmer. The other workers chatted to the users and handed them out small packs containing soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and a condom, as well as offering them a safe place to stay at Korsang if they so wished. A few users had injuries and one man was taken back to the medical post as he could no longer move his leg after injecting heroin into it 4 days before. I was glad that he agreed to go back to the center as I have noticed people here tend to put off getting medical help until it becomes a substantial problem. Outreach was like nothing I had ever witnessed before, the passers by seemed so nonchalant about the drug users, who were located just by where they lived and small children were also walking by unaware.

In the afternoon, I accompanied the medical team to the hospital, where they were checking up on various patients who had become ill whilst in Korsang: one person with pneumonia, one with TB and another who had water in his lungs. Although before we could go and see any off them there seemed to be a considerable amount of bills to sort out. The phrase "no money, no honey" clearly applied in hospitals in Phnom Penh, as even if someone is on their deathbed the doctors refuse to give treatment if payment has not been received... We also took the man with the stiff knee to the hospital who was prescribed some meds.

Other than the drug use and grim money issues it's pretty relaxed here, and the staff and residents are all very nice (like most Khmer people really). I saw the man with the bad knee today when I was working and he seemed so much better, and was very grateful to the whole medical team. It's difficult working here as there are no HCPs so people must often go to the hospital, which drug users particularly are very reluctant to do, but those who do go seem OK once they've received treatment (apart from the ones are required to stay in the hospital and try to escape...). The medical team are great too and you can tell that everyone who works here really cares about the NGO: most of the staff were drug users before and there are many deportees from the US who work there (which is good for me because it means people who speak English!).

I'm going to visit the Methadone clinic tomorrow and I am also on call over the weekend with JB, so hopefully should be interesting :-)

From Phnom Penh, Alex Malet, Over & Out!

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