In July 2012 I attended the Homebirth Australia conference in Hobart, in my role as yoga teacher specialising in yoga for pregnancy, birth and motherhood. On the first day there were a number of excellent presentations and I was particularly touched by Dr Kirsten Small who spoke of her trip to Cambodia where she spent a month supporting nurse/doula friend, Denise Love, who is working with the NGO called Women’s Health Cambodia (WHC) who work with a number of health centres.

Kirsten told us how most women are living in poverty and access to clean drinking water and nutritious food is a problem, further hampered by cultural beliefs about what foods women should consume when they are breastfeeding.

Women birth in very basic local clinics. Early discharge is the norm in most areas – there just isn’t the physical capacity in the clinics (which are primary health care run and staffed by midwives only) or the hospitals (which have basic medical assistance and medical staff) for women to stay for more than a day or two. When women return home, ‘Roasting’ is an active concern – the practice of keeping the woman and the baby very warm with blankets and sometimes by lighting a fire under their sleeping platform – resulting in dehydrated sleepy mothers and babies, poor breastfeeding as a result and sometimes burns.

Kirsten explained that the fund raising body for WHC, Life Options Asia, had funded a blue tuk tuk which enabled them to get staff from the clinics to the women in the villages, however one blue tuk tuk wasn’t enough and that to fund a second would cost $1000. Inspired by her presentation, recognising the strong need for the tuk tuk in Cambodia and confident in the solidarity of women I went home that night and did some sums: Approximately 100 women at the Homebirth conference, hmm that’s $10 each (2 and a half cups of coffee….)

Returning to the conference on sunday morning, heart in mouth, I talked my idea through with the organisers who encouraged me to speak to the delegates. Basically we had that opportunity to raise $1000 for the women of Cambodia in a day! At morning tea I held out my red beret, the notes started dropping in, how exciting. Then again at lunchtime more cash was deposited. By the beginning of the afternoon we had about two thirds of what we needed. With only about $350 to go, another announcement was made and people came running with the money. How wonderful to see the incredible generosity of so many women. In total we raised $1071.

Kirsten Small deposited the cash in the Life Options Australia account. And it was duly used to buy a blue tuk tuk.  With only the one blue tuk tuk previously it was sometimes requisitioned to make emergency transfers for women to hospital which prevented the midwives from making their village visits.  Kirsten has recently returned to Cambodia and reports that with “our” tuk tuk the WHC staff are able to continue their important work visiting the women in the villages. The program aims to ensure that all women have 3 visits from the team during the first 6 weeks after discharge. Mothers and babies are given a check up, and it is an opportunity to do education in the villages about appropriate postnatal care and contraception (called birth spacing in Cambodia).

WHC also employs a team of men who act as tuk tuk drivers – providing meaningful employment for more Cambodians. It’s quite a challenging job as the roads are poor – unsealed mostly and badly damaged during the wet season each year, with cows roaming free, and other rural traffic to compete with. There are generally no street names or numbers so finding where the women are is generally a process of stopping and asking at several houses for directions. Fortunately once you get to the right village everyone generally knows everyone else so they can tell you who has just had a baby and where to find them.

The accompanying photos were taken in Takeo city, in Takeo province in the south of Cambodia. There are a number of health centres that WHC works with and the tuk tuk is used wherever the WHC team is currently working. At present they are supporting Preyvihear clinic in Kampong Spue province and the Rominh Subreferral Hospital in Takeo province. The clinics change – as funding allows the work to be expanded and other places are left either because they now have the capacity to be self supporting or because corrupt practices are exposed and the decision is made to withdraw support until they sort them out.

A huge, warm thank you to you to all of you who so generously helped to manifest this tuk tuk which is now in action in the villages of Cambodia.

From Julia Gibson

Read more about the work of Women’s Health Cambodia here

Do you have nursing, midwifery, medical or doula skills?  Volunteer to work with Women’s Health Cambodia here