Lessons.

By Cassandra Hensel, Undergraduate Student | June 14, 2016


     Before Mercer on Mission I was sure I wanted to pursue a professional career in medicine. I have never wanted to do anything else. I have participated in service activities throughout my lifetime and have had the fortune to travel to many places including South America, Canada, and all of over China. However, I had never had the opportunity to travel abroad for the purpose of serving others. Serving others outside of the environment affording the comforts of home or even the U.S. moved me to grow in capacities I had not thought possible. I am most thankful for three aspects of my growth, in particular. First, my confidence in my abilities to pursue my long sought-after career as a physician increased immensely and confirmed my desire to pursue medicine. Second, my awareness of how privileged I am for receiving the education necessary to pursue my goals, and the relevance of the education I have received. Finally, I learned that oppressive regimes can traumatize an entire nation and healing may take centuries.

 

     I learned the need for medical treatment can be much greater than the need of even the poorest in America. The Khmer people would wait sometimes hours to make it through the intake and vital signs process to be seen by one of the medical students. I have always dreamed of practicing in small town, Georgia, but I now realize that this can only be a part of my chosen vocation. Now I aim for a future that will encompass Doctors without Borders and other organizations that regularize medical treatment for the less fortunate abroad. As Aldous Huxley states, “Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Mercer on Mission in Cambodia is an experience that has changed my goals, I am now more than ever determined to become a professional in the position of giving back to the world from which I have received so much. My only hope is that we have given the Khmer people at least half as much as they have given me. Participation in their treatment and working side-by-side with the interdisciplinary medical team has taught me that I have the manner, patience, and drive to pursue this goal. In order to reach my target I have to absorb and learn as much as I can in my remaining time as an undergraduate.

 

     My mother has always told me “your education is something no one can take from you.”  I was raised in a home that valued intellect, nourished learning, and provided all of the tools needed to attain knowledge. I was stunned and surprised to learn of discrimination against the educated. I have learned that in the case of the Cambodian genocide during the Khmer Rouge that with education came a death sentence. The Khmer Rouge targeted intellectuals and professionals to be arrested, tortured, interrogated, and brutally executed. When I learned this I was humbled and reminded that knowledge is only one aspect of a person, and it is what you do with your knowledge that shows your modesty in character. Your character is the tip of the iceberg that the world can see; but your education, ethics, and beliefs lie below the surface and offer support for your actions. The lesson to look deeper into the levels of another and also myself is just one of the many I learned in Cambodia.



Team

By Morgan Mathis, Part of the Team | June 12, 2016


As some of you already know, I am a high schooler going into the eleventh grade. With a scan of the team, I am significantly younger than everyone else, and I acquire little to no knowledge about medicine even though both of my parents are doctors. When I signed up for this trip, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to help enough because I was a high schooler. I knew I had no knowledge of medicine, and I thought I would just be a wasted and unimportant member of our team. I contemplated this for a long time as the trip grew closer and closer. However, once the trip started and I began to get to know the team, I realized that my age and intellectual differences didn't matter. Justis Ward even said to me, "you are one of us now." These students don't see me as just Dr. Scheetz' daughter; These students see me as a helpful member of their team. 

In other words, I worried about nothing. God opened doors for me and gave me the opportunity to come on this trip in order for me to meet these amazing, compassionate, humble men and women for a reason. Maybe God allowed me to come on this trip to show me that I need to pursue medicine like my parents and sister. Or maybe, God lead me down this path to show me just how blessed I truly am. However, no matter the reason, I feel like I have made new friends that will last. Everyone has taught me so much whether it be medical knowledge or even life lessons. For this outlook, I will be forever grateful. These young adults have truly made a huge impact in my life in this short amount of time whether they believe so or not. I am truly sad to leave this team today as I couldn't of asked for a better group of students. However, I can't wait to see the great doctors, pharmacists, and nurses these kind and loving adults learn to be.



Finding the Treasure in Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat Temples

By Robert Roach, Undergraduate Student | June 12, 2016


4:30am, the piercing alarm jolts us out of our warm beds.  We dress quickly, too tired to talk too tired to think, and run down the stairs of our hotel into a waiting tuk tuk.  A sleeping city passes quickly by our sleep filled eyes.  Twenty minutes later, still half asleep, we stagger with the crowd through the massive sandstone gates of the Great Angkor Wat, and into the temple complex.


Deafened by the silence of a thousand of other weary travelers, all here for the same purpose, I wait reverently at the heart of this City of Temples on a ruined monastery pitted and worn down by the passage of time and men long dead.  Surrounded by friends and strangers I find myself sitting alone in the company of my thoughts.  There’s still some time left, so I let my eyes wander around the structure outlined against the night sky.


Directly to my left runs the main causeway leading to the central temple.  Its raised five or six feet off the ground and runs twelve hundren feet long.  On either side of this and along the whole length, two giant seven headed snakes known as Naga stand guard.  Two sacred pools, made for ritual cleansing, stand on either side of this causeway.  About eight hundred feet to my front towers the main temple complex.  Made of solid stone and standing six hundred feet tall, even in the predawn darkness I am struck with by the sheer size and magnitude of this structure.  I see the five soaring towers which together represent Mount Meru; home of the Hindu gods.  Its barely visible, but every square inch of this central temple is covered in intricate carvings of impossible detail.  The god king Suryavarma II built this temple facing the West and dedicated it to Vishnu.  It has been a continuous place of worship for a thousand years.


Every day for a thousand years it stood.  The sun rises.  Every day for a thousand years men looked with reverence upon what I now see.  Soft golden rays slowly sweep across the holy mount and kiss carved stone that has known such embrace for a millennium.  I stand speechless.   Struck to the core.  Unworthy of such beauty; humbled by such majesty.  The sun washes over my face.  My soul rises up to meet to it.  I feel peace. 


I see the crowds arounds me from every nation and every people.  Each person has a story.  Each person has friends, family and a home.  Each has fears, hopes, and desires.  We all have the same emotions.  We all love.  We all have a soul.  In the beauty of the sunrise over Angkor Wat I can see reflected the beauty of each individual standing here with me. 


The same tropical sun sinks down to illuminate the city’s western border.   We make our way through heckling merchants and a pulsating crowd to board a plane in the Siem Reap international airport.  It’s been a long day, but an even longer journey.  I step onto the plane to go back to my usual life.  I’m not the same person as when I left three weeks ago.



Finding the Treasure in Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat Temples

By Jabria Stinson, Nursing Student | June 11, 2016


I definitely did not know exactly what I would be getting myself into throughout this day, but I knew that there would be adventures that I had not experienced anywhere else. Although I am not very “outdoorsy”, I thoroughly enjoyed the time to actually see some of the history that we had previously learned about in class. We were met in the morning by an awesome surprise - a tuk tuk caravan that would be taking us two in each vehicle to each location throughout the day. It is definitely a different view of the city as we toured from the back of our tuk tuk to some of the world’s greatest wonders, Our tour guide, Kong, was very knowledgeable about both cities and shared a multitude of history lessons on the meanings behind the carvings and inscriptions. Each carving told a portion of the Cambodian history whether it was about the king at the time or the war that occurred during a certain period. I learned that Angkor Thom literally means ‘Big City’ and Angkor Wat means “The City’s Temple’. At the center of the Cambodian flag stands the three pillars of the ancient Angkor Wat temple that we got to actually see in person; this experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am so thankful that we were able to enjoy. I am not sure that pictures will be able to do these temples justice as they towered above us with their inscriptions of history that told a vivid story, but I am thrilled about sharing.


     Angkor Thom had its own set of adventures in addition to the touring of the ancient temples that I had been telling my parents I wanted to do sine I found out I was going to be on this team. Elephant rides! I absolutely love elephants, and as Mrs. Gayle said, “You truly have such a different view of the temples from the back of an elephant.” I shared an elephant ride with Savannah and got to learn a little about our 45-year old elephant friend, Kheaton. This experience was everything I had dreamed of and more. After 1000 pictures [may or may not be an exaggeration], I was still reluctant to leave my newfound friend, but there was more adventure to be had.


     Our next adventure was by bus to Angkor Wat to view these temples that have been there for centuries and still have a recent history for the Cambodian people. Although the temple was built centuries ago, was seen as a holy ground for the Buddhist faith, and has now become a major tourist attraction from many citizens across the globe, it was not unscathed by the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Many citizens found this temple to be their safe ground as they attempted to escape persecution from the Khmer Rouge; however, eventually even the temple was overtaken by this group, and all of those who sought shelter and refuge were forced into the jungle. Kong shared this story with us as we stood around the stone with evidence of shrapnel impact, and that is where we learned that both he and his mother were members of the community that sought refuge in that very temple. The recentness of the powerfully negative impact of the Khmer Rouge could be seen from our clinics in Kampot to our tours in Siem Reap. It made me realize that true vastness of this group and the true resiliency of the Cambodian community. I am so appreciative for the opportunity to see some of the physical history of the Cambodian people dating back centuries in time. I believe that learning the history is vital to completely understanding each person, their decisions, and their stories. 


     After touring the beautiful temples and even climbing all the way to the top at a 70 degree angle, a challenge within itself especially for someone like me who is terrified of heights, we were met by none other than the rain. However, this moment was when I realized quite literally that nothing would stop our group from making the best of every situation, even if less than optimal, as we were greeted by the customary rainy season rain on our way out of the temple. What a way to end the day! A little singing session and a lot of laughter under the banyan tree in front of Angkor Wat is something I will always remember and an experience I will always appreciate.



Touch the patient, look them in the eye, and hear their story

By Anna Lisa Ciarrocca, Undergraduate Student | June 11, 2016


Last night at our final group meeting of the trip, each team member was challenged to answer the question "How did you make a difference?" To an outsider, this question may seem like it has a simple answer such as "we helped a lot of people" but once you have experienced this trip and have gained a deeper understanding of this culture, you find yourself at a loss for words. As Americans, we often take our healthcare for granted. Due to local urgent cares and emergency rooms, we can pretty much be seen by a medical professional and treated no matter the time of day. Cambodians do not have this luxury. Yes, healthcare is free in Cambodia so some may ask why we are devoting so much time, money, and energy into something that is already "provided". The key factor to take into consideration when thinking about this situation is not the cost of healthcare but rather the accessibility and quality of healthcare being received.  Last week at clinic, we were given the opportunity to tour the health center that has been established in the village. When we arrived, the buildings and grounds looked vacant and dilapidated. There wasn't a physician on site and the only patient was laying on a bare bed outside in the heat. The conditions at this health center were far less than optimal so it truly puts into perspective the quality of healthcare that they receive if they choose to seek help.  If someone acquires an injury, they can not afford to skip work to go to the city to see a doctor. They must continue to work to provide for their family even if they're in physical pain.

Through this trip, we provided individuals in rural villages access to healthcare and patient education that they otherwise would have never received. Even if we didn't have the means to physically help a patient in that moment, we still actively tried to improve their quality of life through counseling, referring them to a hospital, or even by simply giving them a pair of glasses. Through our love, attention, and care we truly touched many lives. Each and every one of us made a difference in the lives of our patients but I think the true beauty of this trip is the impact that the Khmer people had on our lives and how the lessons learned from these patients will follow us through our educational and professional careers for years to come.



Being Abroad

By Lyndsey Bell, Nursing Student | June 10, 2016


“Investment in travel is an investment in yourself.” As much as we have given to the Cambodian people I feel that I have gotten so much more in return. Traveling abroad allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone, and experience the giant world outside of America. Everything is different here, from the bathrooms to the way people live. Everyday is a new adventure with something to else to discover. 

Any traveling is a great experience, but leaving your home country allows you to not only see new things, but get to experience a new culture. Cambodia has offered so many things. I saw poverty beyond anything I had ever seen before. I went to beautiful temples built before America even existed, meet the humbling Cambodian people, and even walked into traffic without looking. My soul was touched in a way that could not have happened at home. I hope to continue to travel abroad throughout my life and expose my future family to the world outside of America. 
It is interesting however to see how much I have learned about my own culture by amercing myself in the Cambodian culture. We take for granted our history and culture. The Cambodian people are able to tell us all about their history 100s of years ago, in America you are doing good to find a person who knows who their governor is. Second, we are so blessed. When talking to an 80 year old woman, I was shocked to hear that she is still working as a farmer. It is hard to imagine a world without retirement funds and social security. I have learned that just because it is how things are at home, doesn’t meant that it is the only or best way.


Connecting with My People

By Cindy Nee, Pharmacy Student | June 10, 2016

     

What a world-wind trip we have been on so far! It’s the first day we have off after clinics and it’s really given me time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far here in Cambodia, and also how it has affected me personally and professionally.

     As most people on this trip know, I am Khmer. Both my parents were born and raised in Cambodia. They were both affected by the Khmer Rouge and immigrated to the States when they were in the teens. Both my parents cope with the experiences they went through differently. It was a completely life changing experience for my mom. She went from living in the big city, Phnom Penh, to being relocated to a smaller location and changing her family’s identity in order to be saved from the Khmer Rouge. My dad had already lived in a poorer province. Though his life was not changed as drastically as my mothers, I have heard stories of how he was in danger of being killed several times and how family connections are the only thing that saved him.

     Throughout my childhood, I have heard time and time again how “lucky” I am. I’ve heard stories about starvation and death. If it weren’t for the Khmer Rouge, I would have more aunts and uncles by far. No matter the stories you’ve been told as a child, I feel like you can never relate until you’ve truly been through the experience.

     This is my first time in Cambodia. I was born and raised in Georgia. So though I was more familiar with this culture than most of the team, I still went through a culture shock. I don’t know how to speak the language. Though I understand the majority of the language, I’ve never felt like I truly belonged in this community due to my lack of understanding. People in this country recognize my look as Khmer. This has been interesting, because I’ve never been told I looked Khmer. The people here expect more of me. Patients talk to me in Khmer and sometimes do not understand why I do not speak their language. My “American-ness” has shown at times as well. The mosquitos, the heat, and style of living are so different from what I am used to. I have been uncomfortable during times of this trip because I felt like I never truly belonged as part of this culture, but I also did. However, being of this heritage has also allowed me to connect to the people of this culture in a greater way. I do not need interpreters to understand the patient stories. I can joke with the people here without the need of a translator. The food is familiar to me and reminds me of home. I can see the history of the buildings, the people, and the culture because I’ve heard stories of how this city was ruined and rebuilt time and time again.

     I am so excited to visit Angkor Wat tomorrow. My parents have a huge painting in their house of the temple. In fact, most Cambodian families do. It’s a part of the culture. This will be our final touring spot for the trip before we come back home and I feel like this is the last place I need to visit before I feel I have really experienced this country. This temple has gone through so much change through time. It truly shows the history of Cambodia – the beauty, the damage, and the reconstruction of not only the temple, but of the people.

     I can truly say that I will go back home with a greater understanding of what my family experienced. I visited some family in Phnom Penh and have seen how people live here. I have treated patients and seen the diseases this population suffers from (and how different it is from America). I am forever grateful for the life I have been raised with and how much my parents have sacrificed for me to be where I am today. I have now seen the killing fields, the rice fields, and the run-down homes my parents had to go through. Though I may not be fluent in Khmer, I do have a deeper relationship with these people. I will come back home with a greater understanding of where I come from and how lucky we are to have the treatment options we have in America. I do not know when I’ll be back to this country, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to connect with my people in a way that goes beyond just touring.



The Big Decision

By Justis Ward, Undergraduate Student | June 9, 2016

     

Tomorrow, Team Cambodia goes into our last weekend before we return to the States. Technically, we have three days left before boarding the international flight home, and so technically, I have three days left before I have to make my big decision which is “do I wish to pursue a medical career?” When I applied to come on this trip, I was on the fence as to whether I focus on music or on medicine. Some days, I could vividly imagine the feel of my very own white coat. Then again, on other days, the thought of being a doctor seemed so far away, so burdensome, when I could instead just play my guitar and sing all day. I was faced with a big decision. A pediatrician or a musician? Writing songs or writing prescriptions? Serving music-lovers or serving children? Evoking the cheers of fans or evoking the smiles of families? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself every day, and I continued to ask myself those questions for the three weeks I’ve been here in Cambodia.

     I brought my guitar and a list of songs on this trip, and there were several moments—with and without them—that I was able to share my voice with my new friends. Sometimes, the whole team would listen, and other times, I had the ears of just three (who stayed up with me well past midnight). Still, each of those moments meant the world, and throughout the trip, I thought, “This is definitely what I want to do for the rest of my life.” On the flip side, I also brought my stethoscope and a small journal, and there were many moments that I was able to interact with the team and with the patients in clinic and take note of the incredible wisdom that flowed from both. Those moments meant just as much, and throughout the trip, I thought, “This is definitely what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

     Before I go on, I want to say, “Thank you,” to each and every individual whose life crossed path with mine. To the undergraduates, to the volunteers, to the interpreters, (ESPECIALLY) to the medical students, to faculty, and to the patients, thank you for what you imparted into me on this trip. Whether you think you did anything worthwhile for me or not, I can assure you that each of you impacted me and your own way. Every laugh, every word of advice, every compliment, and every critique was much appreciated.

     So, I’ll wrap this up now by referencing Mrs. Bina. She told me a long while back that this trip would get me off the fence. At first, I thought that she meant, “This trip will make you choose one or the other: music or medicine,” but that assumption was wrong. This trip showed me how much I loved both. All this time, I’ve been trying to narrow my “passion” down to just one: music OR medicine. However, the reason why I’ve never been content with my choice is because what I’ve really been looking for this whole time is a balance between the two. I’m aware that medical school will require a lot of my time. A whole lot of my time! And sometimes, my music will have to be put on hold. However, I can say that I have now made my “big decision.”

     I will work hard for the rest of this summer to get into medical school, where I will delve deeply into a community of knowledge. Then, whenever I have free time, you better believe that I will find a community of music, and there, I will submerge myself in my second—but definitely not lesser—passion. Then, I’ll just smile, knowing that this fantastic, life-changing trip, MoM Cambodia 2016, was where it all fell into place.



The Ones Who Glow in the Dark

By Sydney Koenig, Undergraduate Student | June 9, 2016


You can’t know a country without knowing its people.  The Mercer on Mission faculty drilled this message into our heads before we departed for Cambodia, but today was the first time I understood its gravity.  Coming into this country, we knew that the Khmer had recently suffered a terrible genocide. We knew that they were a shattered people, and we knew that the majority of people did not have access to healthcare.  What we didn’t know is that these same people are the most generous, selfless, and optimistic we would ever meet.

The generous ones are those such as Mr. Lang, the manager of our hotel.  He wrote up lessons in Khmer simply because we showed interest in learning the language. For our last night, tonight, he exceeded his own reputation.  This generous man and his staff stayed until all hours of the night just to throw us a goodbye party.  That these people should go out of their way to celebrate us, when they have been waiting on us hand-and-foot for two weeks is simply astounding.  The selfless ones are our patients.  They come to our clinic from tightly knit communities, and they care for each other so well that they have often brought in one another’s children.  Families and family units are so important to our patients that sometimes the only way to convince them to care for their own health is to explain how their sickness/injury hurts their loved ones.  Family again shows up as the thing that several of my anxious patients worry about the most.  In our time here, I have even noticed that family is a key part of the Khmer culture – their terms of address are all family terms, such as ming-“aunt”, bong-“uncle”, brhow-“brother”, and sray-“sister”.

The optimistic ones are the easiest to spot.  Today, I was blessed with one such patient – an eight-year-old girl who had been burned by boiling water three years ago.  Her complaint was only that her side felt tight, which I thought was very strange after such a long time.  I realized very quickly that her small complaint underemphasized her pain.  This child – easily the happiest, giggliest, sweetest little kid of the last week and a half – had a large skin graft all across her left side, and yet her complaint was only that the graft had stopped stretching as she continued to grow! She wasn’t ashamed of her scars in the least, and she even starting to show them off when our faculty came to inspect our assessments.  For me, her optimistic outlook reflects the hope that the Khmer share for a better future.  They do the best they can with what they have and dedicate their own plans to help those they love.  Like my sweet little friend, they firmly believe that everything will turn out for the best if they can just hold on.

I didn’t expect to learn so much about the Cambodian people after interacting with them for only two weeks, and I certainly didn’t expect to learn about finding true joy here.  Yes, everyone has something to teach you, but only a select few can inspire you as the Cambodians have inspired me.  Those are the ones who have gone through the fire and have come out pure as gold.  Those are the ones who remain gentle and caring in the darkest of times.  Those are the ones who glow in the dark.


Ad astra per aspera.


The Wonder of Cambodia.

By Dane Hellwig, Medical Student | June 8, 2016


     The theologian Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote in his fourth century text "Confessions", "People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering."

     Few Cambodians were left untouched by the Khmer Rouge genocide. An estimated two million lost their lives, representing one-third of the population. Much like cancer in America, everyone has lost someone close. The shadow of the past still lingers, shrouding the landscape and haunting the Khmer.

     The Khmer's struggle has left them with an appreciation of peace which comes only after living without it. Cambodians live deliberately and without frills. The constant specter of mortality creates a love and appreciation of life unlike anything in America. The German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt described this appreciation as "love of the world", words I have never truly been able to make sense of it until now.

     The Cambodian ethos manifests itself in the medical field as a deep gratitude for those who care for them. There have been many problems our small, mobile treatment team is unequipped to manage. My gut reaction is fear I have failed or let my patient down. Delivering disappointing news via translator seems to last an eternity. The reputation of American doctors attracts sick patients from miles around. As the translator relays my apologetic words I wait for hope to melt into disappointment. Not once have my fears been realized. Cambodians are uniformly gracious to a fault. They appreciate mere effort. It is an extremely humbling experience.

     I will echo a popular cliche of Americans abroad: Cambodia makes me realize how much I have and how much I have to be thankful for. More than once I have mistakenly overpaid only to have the vendor stop me and return the excess. The amount is pocket change to me but represents a day's work to an average Khmer. This action speaks without need for translation.

     These past weeks I have wondered at Cambodia's mountains, seas, rivers, oceans and stars but mostly I wonder at the Khmer and their vivacious, unsinkable spirit and I pass by myself and wonder.



One More Day

By Gayle-Anne Wright, Medical Student | June 8, 2016


     Today I had the privilege to see a follow-up patient from Tuesday’s clinic. She by far was the patient I saw in the most pain and in the most danger of developing serious complications of her disease. She slowly shuffled towards me in Tuesday’s clinic with her face so scrunched in pain from her extremely severe rheumatoid arthritis, that I thought she had eaten something sour. Once she sat down and I saw her check-in sheet, I saw that her pain was not the only problem. She had a blood pressure of 232/130 and had right eye blindness and decreased urine output (signs of end-organ failure and deemed a hypertensive emergency).  My heart began racing. She also had a JVD and a lateralized PMI (signs of enlarged heart and heart failure). Having given up time on my Internal Medicine rotation to go on this trip, I had missed out on some critical care experience… or so I had thought! My first instinct was “This lady needs to be in a hospital”--but the patient said she could not get a ride to the hospital 40 km away for another 2 days.  This acute problem needed to be addressed ASAP and all she had was our clinic, full of students in training. Slowly, I worked my way through all of her problems and consulted Dr. Sheetz on how exactly to go about treating an ICU patient in our pop-up clinic in a third world country with limited medications for 2 days until she could make it to a hospital.  We pieced together a plan of action for some medications for her hypertension, probable congestive heart failure, and RA and set up a follow up visit the following day.  This morning, the patient was brought to the front of the line to my station. She had an improved BP at 210/100 and her face was slightly less scrunched – which met our goal. As little as that sounds, that made a difference to me. To be able to have some continuity of care and to personally be able to visibly reduce someone’s pain meant the world to me. And more importantly, I could see in her daughter’s eyes that it meant the world to her family that maybe her mother could be around a little longer and manage to play with her grandkids more.

 

     We are coming to the end of our clinic days. Tomorrow will be our last day of getting to hear real Cambodian’s stories. Clinic is the whole reason we are here. We have a little time left in the country as tourists, but no longer will we be interfacing with typical Cambodians on a daily basis and hearing the concerns of the people at a grassroots level. No more farmers with osteoarthritis from years of bending down and harvesting rice or from roping up water buffalo. There will be no more Khmer curry-induced gastroesophageal reflux to diagnose. As a future pediatrician, I have to admit I did not enjoy every Tums or Tylenol that I prescribed, however, I did enjoy the privilege to hear their stories and their concerns and the opportunity to give them something that could calm some of their discomforts. From chronic to acute, these people were our teachers. They were our professors, our comrades, and our experiments at times. They taught us that “common things are common”, that a handmade bracelet can make even a grown lady smile when she is in a lot of pain, and that looking someone in the eye when telling them the bad news that they may be infertile from a childhood preventable infection can help provide them with some measure of empathy and love in an otherwise stoic society.



The Value of a Physical Exam
By Chris Dammeyer, Medical Student | June 7, 2016

     In Cambodia, we are often not so fortunate. Here, we must rely more so on history and physical exam findings. Here, we may have no specialists to refer patients. Here, we may treat based on a suspected diagnosis and reassess based on clinical response. 

     On a particular day in clinic, we treated a middle aged female for likely tension headaches, osteoarthritis, and GERD, all too common complaints here, for which she was very grateful as are all the humble patients in this country. However, an astute undergraduate student working with the team at the time questioned me regarding what appeared to be a small midline neck mass. Upon further palpation and exam, it appeared to be a goiter or enlarged thyroid gland. The patient upon prompting then reported recent weight gain, worsening fatigue, and cold intolerance, consistent with probable hypothyroidism. Even without the ability to test for TSH/T4 levels, the findings in the history were consistent with those noted on physical exam, and a more complete clinical picture was painted. I was reminded of the value of a complete physical exam - a practice that is sometimes forgotten in the United States where we have an assortment of tests and imaging at our disposal. However, the physical exam is important for another reason - the human connection. Laying hands on a patient confers a certain connection between patient and caregiver and demonstrates our dedication to their well-being. It shows we care. It shows we are in this together. And a simple touch can go a long way in a country like this. We ultimately referred this patient to a local hospital for further work-up but it all began with a simple physical exam finding which has the potential to make a huge difference in the patient's day to day life, giving her back some of the energy that she has lost. 


Clinic Day #6
By Natalie Clifton, Nursing Student | June 7, 2016

     In the past two days, we have seen 485 patients. 485. That number seems insane. To put it into perspective, an average office appointment is scheduled for 15 minutes. If a single practitioner was to see all the patients we have seen in the last two days, it would take 121 hours, give or take, which would correlate to roughly 15 8-hour days. That doesn’t include the time in takes for all the information to be relayed via interpreter. We have a remarkable team. The faculty, the students, the volunteers, and the interpreters are individually and collectively strong. Any other people might crumble at the thought of trying to conduct clinic partially outside in the middle of a monsoon with I kid you not (no pun intended) goats, chickens, cows, turkeys, puppies, and school age children running through the yard. If you want to get good at taking manual blood pressures, our clinic this week is just the inferno you should visit. I have been so amazed with our patients, that I hadn’t stopped until today, when I had the opportunity to help manage the clinic, to realize just how talented our team is. This trip is structured in such a way that all members are challenged and put in positions that allow us to grow in more than just our specialties or areas of interest. Never in my life did I think I would want to be a charge nurse, yet today I found myself doing exactly that. It was hard and uncomfortable, but life without change is static by definition, isn’t it? I am grateful for the opportunities I have been presented with because they have stretched me in ways that I didn’t anticipate, and I think the rest of our team would say the same. 

Hard Life & Hope.
By Karman Duchon, Medical Student | June 6, 2016

     Today almost every patient that I saw was a farmer. And when I say "farmer" you need to know that it is not like farming in the states. This is back-bent , pushing-the-plow, hand-planting-the-rice, crouching-on-your-knees type of farming. This is hard work and it more than wears on their bodies. Most of the patients I saw today had a horrible joint pain from osteoarthritis caused from a long, hard hours of work. Or they had nerve compression from crouching and bending leading to numbness, tingling and shooting pain. Or headaches caused from heavy lifting, strain, or dehydration. In essence these peoples bodies are being worn down much faster than they should. They deal with chronic pain on a daily basis and still, somehow, drag themselves into the fields for another day. It is hard for me to be unable to do more than hold her hand, smile at them and tell them I understand but hard drives they have had. At the end of the day all I can do is hope that this and the few ibuprofen I can pass their way will help.

Staying Positive.
By Binh Ngo, Medical Student | June 6, 2016

     Today we went to a new clinic situated inside an elementary school. As the bus was pulling up into the court yard, we can clearly see little children in their white and blue uniforms playing in the main playground, oddly uninterested in the arrival of a huge bus containing foreigners. As expected, a few ladies on the bus screamed with delight at the sight of the children; the future pediatrics must have been in paradise. We set up the clinic in the main spacious chapel with white marble tile flooring and big windows that let in the fresh air, while the pharmacy was set-up in a smaller classroom across the court yard. We ended up treating a total of 209 patients. Half-way through the day, a heavy downpour of rain brought fresh new breezes and coolness to the previously hot humid air. I have always loved the rain, but now I am ever more thankful for the relief it can bring. Most of the patients presented with the more typical symptoms of acid reflux, muscle and joint pain from decades of arduous farming, blurry vision and headache from working in the glaring hot sun for too long. Yet my heart breaks bit-by-bit and day-by-day as I see more elderly patients in their 70’s complaining of these symptoms, knowing that our medications are only bandages to give them temporary relief, while the real culprit is the farm work they must perform day-in day-out at such old fragile age. At times, I feel helpless, like giving drowning survivors small life- rafts to weather an indefinite churning sea storm. I can only hope that our smiles, warmth, touch, and genuine concerns can give them some additional comfort. I have to remind myself that medicine is only one factor in a person’s life, while their social economic situation is often beyond our control, and that sphere itself is tied to an even bigger complicated cultural, political, and economic systems. We can only do what we can for our patients, and I sincerely pray that it makes a positive difference at the end of the day.

Inspiration.
By Kelly Redlinger, Medical Student | June 6, 2016

     After a much needed weekend of R&R the team was off to a roaring start this Monday! We saw 200+ patients at our new location, which is both a school and a church. Our new location is larger and patients were waiting when we arrived in the morning.  At one point around midday we became overwhelmed with patients and learned to pick up our pace as a team to see as much people as possible and still give the best care we could give as we spent time with each patient.  A large storm rolled through after lunch and a ceiling tile fell on the floor in the middle of clinic but we just mopped it up and kept going! Our team is doing very well together and is only improving as we learn more each day.

     Many patients have impacted me while on the trip but I particularly enjoyed being with one older man in clinic today.  He is the pastor of the church we are holding clinic in and because of that is well respected in the community. From questioning I found out he also works in the rice fields while not doing his pastoral duties.

     Side Note: Rice farming is a very popular way of living especially in rural Cambodia. Unlike in the States where most farmers have access to tractors and other machinery to make farming easier, in the poor areas where we are in SE Asia, the rice is harvested manually.  This includes long days in water saturated fields and a process of “cutting, stacking, handling, threshing, cleaning, and hauling” all by hand (see ricepedia.org for more info)

     As I was talking to the pastor something about his face made me think of my PaPa, my mother’s late father.  He was not a pastor, but he was very involved in the church. He also in his youth worked long hard hours of harvesting tobacco before the days of harvesters and continued to work hard to provide for his family his entire life. My PaPa passed away when I was in college and this was a hard time for my family because of the family leader that he was. One of the things I took away from that experience was a desire to be like him, and also an inspiration to be a part of the future of medicine that could have perhaps better treated my PaPa’s illness.

     I told the pastor today these reasons that he reminded me of my grandfather and that he was part of my inspiration for becoming a physician. He smiled and I was grateful to share that moment with him. Please be in prayer that pastors and others like him will continue to share Christ’s love.  Pray that our team will continue to be humbled and have the strength to finish out this week with a bang! And most importantly pray for the patients we see, that we may touch them and change them in a positive way.  We miss you all back home! 

Being Abroad

By Lyndsey Bell, Nursing Student | June 10, 2016

PTSD, Setting Free, & Getting Sleep

By Cassandra Hensel, Undergraduate Student | June 5, 2016


     As we prepared for the week of clinics ahead Dr. Bina read a few excerpts from Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land by Joel Brinkley on post-traumatic stress disorder in the Cambodian society. Brinkley writes "Several research studies have demonstrated that one-third to one-half of all Cambodians who lived through the Khmer Rouge era have PTSD, borne of their traumatic experiences then." Although we have toured S-21 and the Killing Fields I did not realize the extent to which the trauma has radiated through the Khmer people. I thought back to all the patients we had seen in clinic with chief complaints common with symptoms of PTSD including insomnia, headaches, and anxiety. It seemed to me the statistics matched with our pool of patients yet I wondered how individual’s who did not live during the Khmer Rouge experienced such traumatic events. My question was answered with another excerpt: "But in fact, Cambodia is the only nation in the world where it has been demonstrated that symptoms of PTSD and related traumatic illnesses are being passed from one generation to the next." I had never thought before of PTSD being a cyclical process when left untreated. This was eye opening to me.


     I thought back to one of our clinical sessions in which Binh Ngo and I saw a 65-year-old woman complaining of headaches and insomnia. We asked her when was the last time she had slept and she told us she had only slept a couple hours in four days. We asked her what kept her up at night and she told us it was worrying about her family. She was so sleep deprived she even started to hear voices. After consulting the supervising faculty we informed her we would give her some medicine to help her sleep. Immediately her face lightened and she repeatedly thanked us saying “agkoon, agkoon.” The relief on her face showed me just how much we really are helping the Khmer people. It also revealed to me the work still to be done here. I hope to help in anyway I can in the coming week. I am so eager to record and experience everything that I am having a hard time trying to find time to sleep as well. I want to return and do more research on how PTSD is passed on from generation to generation. The people here have suffered and survived through so much yet are so strong and thankful for the care we can provide. The more I learn about the Khmer people the more my heart breaks for them as we can only be here for such a short period of time and there is still so much work to do. My only wish is to give back to the people at least half as much as they have given me. 

                                                            


"Be careful because Cambodia is the most dangerous place you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it, and eventually it will break your heart." – Joel Brinkley




"Boom-Boom" 

By Anna Lisa Ciarrocca, Undergraduate Student | June 2, 2016

 

    Clinic today was slower than usual so the members of the team remained at their morning positions for the entire day instead of being assigned to a different position at noon. When I first heard this, I have to admit that I was pretty bummed that I wouldn’t get a chance to work with a clinician and would be manning the intake station all day. However, this unexpected change in the day’s schedule turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Since we had fewer patients today and the intake station is the first table the patients come to when checking in to be seen, I was one of the first members of the team to finish my duties for the day. I then helped the vitals table finish checking patients and walked around the clinic to see if help was needed anywhere else. One of the important pieces of information that everyone has learned on this trip concerning a hectic clinic is that “If you aren’t assigned anywhere inside and help isn’t needed, then go outside.” So, abiding to this rule, I grabbed a soccer ball and headed straight for the door.


     I couldn’t even make it ten steps outside before I had a swarm of kids running around me wanting to play soccer. I played with the kids for a long time until I needed to sit down and catch my breath. After a few minutes, even though the humidity and heat was stifling, I couldn’t say no when I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and a giggle as I turned to see the soccer star of the bunch holding the ball in my face. Many of the kids warmed up and became more extroverted around me as the day went on so I enjoyed seeing more of their real personalities.


     As the day was coming to a close, I noticed that one of the boys had been eyeing my stethoscope so I sat down on the step with him and showed him how to put it on. Even though he couldn’t understand a word I was saying, I told him that I was going to let him listen to my heartbeat and placed the diaphragm on my chest. His eyes immediately lit up and then he looked up at me, smiled and said “boom-boom.”  Clearly intrigued and proud of himself for hearing my heartbeat, he jumped up and called out to all of his friends to come over. Now with an audience of little boys around, he put on my stethoscope, placed the diaphragm on my chest, and said “boom-boom boom-boom boom-boom” repeatedly to demonstrate the sound of my heartbeat to them. All of the little boys started laughing and of course were begging for a turn of their own to listen to my heart.


     Even though this moment was filled with so much glee, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness as I thought about the limited opportunities these kids have for their future careers. Even if one of these boys grew up to be genuinely interested in medicine, the feasibility of becoming a medical professional is so low. I hope these little boys continue to carry this sense of curiosity with them as they age and find a passion that they can pursue just like every member of our Mercer on Mission team.



Language Barriers

By Reneé Franklin, Medical Student | June 2, 2016


     Today I had a patient in clinic who sat down, and before I could introduce myself, she began tapping both of her knees and doing motions on her chest from her belly button up to her throat and saying, "Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah!" I looked at my translator in confusion, wondering if this was a Khmer word I had not learned yet. My translator said that the woman had not been able to speak from birth, and I realized the woman was more than likely deaf and had never learned a form of sign language. I was instantly a bit panicked because I wasn't sure how I was going to communicate with this woman to figure out what medical issues she had and what I could treat her with. Because of the woman's tapping and motions, I was pretty sure she had osteoarthritis and reflux, but I didn't know how to communicate my treatment plan. Thankfully, the awesome nursing student working with me, Jabria, saved the day and was able to do motions to get the patient to understand. It is in moments like this at clinic where I am reminded of two things: how blessed we are in America and how important teamwork is. 


     Treating this patient pulled at my heart strings because I know that had she been born in the U.S., she may have been able to get a cochlear implant or if not, then she would have learned sign language and had a way to communicate. Can you imagine living your whole life not being able to communicate your thoughts and feelings and ideas with others around you? Being an extrovert, the thought breaks my heart. I don't know why we were blessed to be born in a place where we are not faced with a situation such as this. I pray we never forget how truly blessed we are. 


     This situation was one example of how patient care is bettered by a team approach to medicine. I could have made ten treatment plans for this patient, but without Jabria, I would have never been able to communicate it to my patient. And if the patient doesn't understand the treatment plan, the chances that they will be compliant with it are very slim. This has taught me that every person brings different skills, knowledge, and talents to the table, and it is only in the utilization of all of these from every team member that the patient receives the utmost care.



Rich Poverty

By Shedrick Martin, Pharmacy Student | June 1, 2016


     Cambodia is a majestic country of humility and beauty overshadowed by a Western ideology of indigence. Since arriving in the country I have felt nothing but warmth and love from the local people in every city, town, and establishment we visit. They are ever grateful to have us visit and immerse ourselves in their fascinatingly rich culture. The deep roots of undulating despair and greatness in the country’s history has established an unwavering trunk of culture, strong flexible branches of hard working ideology and morals, a robust vegetation of growing pride and economy, and the most beautiful blooms of humility, kindness, and appreciation that to this day goes unparalleled. Being in this country in some ways makes me ashamed of my fellow Americans and how we have developed into a country of greedy, unappreciative, prideful, and untrustworthy people.


     We are continually taught day in and day out that we are the greatest country in the world because we are strong, rich, and free, but coming to Cambodia has shown me that these aren’t the qualities that make a country great. Identity, culture, humility, and true love for your neighbor and your country are just a few attributes I believe Cambodia excels in compared to the U.S. I would comment on the government structure as a negative quality, but most countries struggle with political leaders. From what I have heard the outlook of Cambodia and its leadership in a good one. I have noticed that almost every home, establishment, business, or person has a picture of their King and speaks well for the most part about their King. When I come home and see the way we treat and speak about our own political leader it hurts to see that we cannot stand strong together and rally as true patriots behind the elected President of the United States.


     My experiences continue to surprise me each day and the clinics we have been conducting each day have been a testament to the thoughts and feelings above. People come in droves all day to see use whether they are sick or not. They thank us with exceeding appreciation and joy even if we are unable to help them with their problems. They walk miles and miles to sometimes leave only with vitamins and a toothbrush. They wait hours to discover that the swelling in their neck is a goiter that we are unable to fix because we do not have the resources to do so. They wait weeks to see us because they know we are coming. The school teachers bring their children whose parents are too busy working in the fields to bring them. Neighbors bring each other both old and young to ensure that they can all receive the attention they so desire. Yet, no one patient out of over 600 has complained once. And all I can think of each day is how much we complain about having to wait 30 minutes at an urgent care that we have ready access to each day. We will have a fit because the doctor with years of training decides not to give us antibiotics for our viral cold so we fuss until he/she gives us something for the cold because we know better than the doctor. How ungrateful some of us have become in our “great and developed country”.



Humbled.

By Lyndsey Bell, Nursing Student | June 1, 2016


     Today was our third day of clinic and I am so blessed to be able to serve these people in any way that I can. The indomitable spirit of the Cambodian people never ceases to amaze me. From the father who doesn’t drink water because he doesn’t want to stop working, to the grandmother who has never been to the doctor, each person I meet has a strength and resiliency that I admire and respect. They come to our clinic and wait outside in the heat without so much as a complaint and then graciously great us. I am truly humbled each day. I do not think I could give enough back to the people who taught me so much about persevering through the tough times and appreciating the good times.



Making Progress on Making Life Decisions

By Justis Ward, Undergraduate Student | May 31, 2016


     I’m pretty sure that by now everyone on Team Cambodia knows that this trip has the potential to be real “game changer” for me. However, for those of you reading this back in the States, I’ll fill you in. I am a rising senior Biochemistry/Molecular Biology (aka BMB) major on track to go to medical school, and although I have always enjoyed learning about the body and how different factors influence the well-being of the body, I haven’t yet decided if medicine is the right career path for me. Again, I’ve always been attracted to the idea of being a doctor, but I struggle with the idea of waking up every morning and going to do the work of a doctor. I haven’t yet found my passion for the profession, and I am praying that this mission helps bring clarity to my decision.

 

     With that being said, I will primarily talk about my experience on the floor with the medical students. The first day of clinics, I worked with Reneé Franklin, but we didn’t get to see many patients, and so on a “what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life” note, I did not get much clarity. However, yesterday I worked with Dane Hellwig, and we saw a plethora of people. I am so appreciative of him showing me the ropes of clinics. Even as an undergraduate student, Dane gave me the opportunity to take patient histories, perform physical examinations, and assist in the assessments and plans for the patients. That experience gave me more excitement for “doctoring."

 

     Then on the final note, today was awesome as well. I worked with Laura Lowery, and at the end of the day, after seeing and talking through some really cool cases with her, I feel even more positively about the possibility of a medical future for myself. I’m very excited to see where the rest of this trip takes me, physically and mentally. And socially. And spiritually! This trip is and was definitely worth it, and although I cannot say for sure that “I want to be a doctor,” I can say that I am more positive than I was three days ago. That is progress, and for right now, that is perfectly fine with me.



There is No I in Team

By Laura Lowry, Medical Student | May 31, 2016 


     Today was our second day of clinic and we saw 50 more patients than yesterday – making the total of 165! We are hoping more people come tomorrow because it was advertised on the radio! At clinic these past two days I have realized that this trip would not be possible if we did not have each member of our team. As a clinician I would not be able to do my job if I did not have an interpreter. I am so thankful to have these medical students, graduates, and nurses who are translating for us. If they were not there I could not communicate with my patient. Also, each time patients are seen I determine what medications are given and they proceed to the pharmacy after the encounter. If we did not have our pharmacy students who work to prepare the medications and to counsel these patients on how to take their medications, our clinic would suffer greatly. The nursing students are a huge help because they can help counsel patients, help with physical exam, and help with wound care. It allows patient encounters to be more efficient and we can see more patients! The attending physicians are crucial to this team. They help make sure that we as clinicians (third year medical students) don’t make mistakes and don’t overlook significant findings. Another big part of what they do is providing encouragement. It is very intimidating coming from America where your opinion in patient care is never the final say, to being in clinic where we are prescribing medications and making referrals for our patients. We could not do it without them. Also, the undergraduates are vital in the clinic. They help with intake, taking vitals, patient encounters, and in the pharmacy.  Without them clinic would not run as smoothly.


     I am so grateful to be a part of this trip and to be able to see and help the people of Cambodia. I am thankful I can do that while being part of this team. It feels as if we are truly making a difference even though we have limited resources. Crossing cultures and changing lives is the slogan of this trip and as a team I think we are doing just that.



The Day We've All Been Waiting For

By Kristen Corcoran, Medical Student | May 30, 2016


     All of the excitement that has been building over the last week (and months, really) culminated in what many of us students have been looking forward to:  our first day of clinic.  For those who don’t know, patients move through the clinic in a series of stations.  They begin with intake and vitals, then have time with a clinic team (medical student with another pharmacy, nursing, or undergraduate student and an interpreter), and finally move to the pharmacy to obtain medications and/or glasses.  The set up allows for us to see as many patients as possible while still spending time addressing the patient’s needs, work with different people every day, and have different jobs.  Altogether, we saw over 100 patients and were able to learn a little more about the Khmer culture and language and about medicine.  


     Despite all that we learned today, there is still much to learn and work through as clinic continues for another 8 days! As a medical student, I really enjoyed getting to teach the undergraduate pre-medical student and see her excitement when she put the pieces together. I was surprised to find how difficult it is to balance attention toward the patient, communicating via an interpreter, teaching and involving another student, and formulating a differential diagnosis all at one time. I am incredibly humbled by my experience today, as I have a greater respect for residents and attending physicians who teach us medical students. The patients we saw today left the clinic with smiles on their faces, saying "aukun," whether we gave them multi-vitamins or fashioned a make-shift brace for a potentially broken wrist. As much as Mercer on Mission supposedly brings to the Khmer people, we have just as much to learn from them and their simplistic lifestyle.



First Day of Clinic

By Cindy Nee, Pharmacy Student | May 30, 2016


     Whoohoo! First day of clinic done! As a pharmacy student, I was extremely nervous about how the pharmacy was going to run. With tons of donated medications, a slew of new prescription medications, we had a lot to keep track of. We saw 115 patients today, with the majority of them being the in the morning. I definitely got to experience the crazy rush that happens in any pharmacy when you have 30 scripts coming in at once. In addition, counseling patients took much longer because we had to use translators. At the end of the day, I was really impressed with how well the undergrad, nursing, and medical students were willing to jump in and lend a hand at any time. Hopefully we can help even more patients while keeping up with the supply and demand of medications throughout the rest of the trip.



Before the Medicinal Storm

By Jabria Stinson, Nursing Student | May 29, 2016


     We started out the morning bright and early on the Natural Bungalows' property. I had noted the beauty of the pavilion, & swings in the days prior but something about today felt different. I was able to take in more and honestly have a moment of prayer on the swing overlooking the water. I know that this opportunity is such a one in a lifetime experience to have, and I am so thankful for it, this team, and the chance to serve.    


     This day was to be filled with activities and I most looked forward to going to church and meeting our interpreters. The church was one-of-a-kind, and we were greeted by nothing but smiling faces from the congregation and the pastor. Shoes off at the door, and we were meet individually by members of the congregation. I could already tell how welcoming they were and their genuine desire to meet us matched our own excitement. Service was filled with praise and worship that surpassed any language and cultural barrier. Laura and Justis were presented with the opportunity to sing “Amazing Grace” during the service and it was incredible. After service concluded the smiles never left the congregation’s faces as we were welcomed once again. I cannot wait to get our feet on the ground and help as many people as possible.


     Lunch was delicious (chicken curry is always a favorite) that served as the event before the “medicinal storm.” The afternoon was met with many challenges of its own as we carried down suitcases filled to the brims with supplies, toys, and medications. We were introduced to all of our interpreters and worked with them to sort and separate appropriate doses of medication. I anticipate that friendships will begin to blossom as we met Davy, Yung Bros, and Sambo earlier in the week. All of the other interpreters seem very excited to be here and eager to get to work helping people. I know that this is a trip and our mission to serve would not be possible without them as a part of our team. I am so excited for our first day of clinic tomorrow!! I could not be more grateful for this opportunity and I am ready to get out there to do whatever it takes to serve everyone who steps through the door.



Falling in love with Cambodia

By Jonathan Cobb, Pharmacy Student | May 29, 2016


     Today we went on a really cool hike to the caves and mountains in the area around Kampot. I was overwhelmed by the scenery of the caves and mountains that we explored. We also ran into some of the children who lived there who acted as our tour guides. Seeing the beauty of the terrain in Cambodia as well as how cheerful the kids were taking pictures with us made the trip really enjoyable and memorable. I am definitely falling in love with this country as the days go by and will miss it greatly. 


 

     The next day was full of uncertainty and a little bit of anxiety as the rest of the pharmacy team and myself headed what we called as "counting day" where we got all of the medicine supplies out and divided up groups to count out all of the individual pills in our inventory. I do not have a lot of experience leading a large group of people, but once I figured out the best way for my team to efficiently count and inventory the medications I felt much better about my leadership skills and thought my team did a fantastic job. We ended up finishing courting day way earlier than I expected. We ended the day by celebrating with a tasty French meal at a local restaurant. 



"Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee"

By Robert Roach, Undergraduate Student | May 28, 2016


As I write this the sunsets over my first full day in Cambodia.  It’s been a long day, oppressively hot with a humidity that clings to the skin and thickens the air.  Yesterday we travelled 9000 miles and today we witnessed an equally vast amount of people and culture.   I find Cambodia intoxicating, but not in any crude sense of the word.  This country takes all your western prejudices and preconceived notions and assaults them with an incredible and vigorous energy impossible to describe.  If you let her, she will touch your soul and open your mind to new realities and yet unknown truths.  This morning I stepped out of the hotel and drowned in the local market as I swam through a sea of people all living beautifully complex lives in close quarters.  Under corrugated iron and through byzantine pathways everything imaginable could be bought as ideas flowed across cultures and over language barriers. This society’s beliefs about history, culture, and religion, invariably kept separate and distinct in the secular west, converge when walking along the marble pathways and through golden pagodas of the Royal Palace and the Elephant Temple.  I viewed The Sacred Jade Buddha and walked in awe among the funeral temples each made in the image of a lotus blossom and containing the hallowed remains of a dead king.  Through these monuments a humble people presented to me the belief systems and ideas that form the bedrock for a way of life impossible for me to imagine just one week ago.  The National Museum came next and gave me a glimpse of the ancient empire modern Cambodia venerates and bases its self on.  Artifacts of astounding beauty and history stood free of the rope and glass western museums cage their exhibits with.  I could get as close as I wished to the statues and feel the story they told in stone and wood with my hands.  While the group listened monolithically to a lecturer drone on, I wandered the halls and waked among god Kings of ancient Angkor.  In their pallid eyes and noble faces I could see the power they once held.  In details ancient masons labored for months on and in stone worn and polished smooth by veneration from countless generations of subjects I could feel the devotion and glimpse the search for a higher power that all individuals in all societies are drawn to.  We then toured the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge and the infamous S-21 concentration camp I tread over shallow graves that had bones and clothing exposed to the world.  I put my hand against a tree where just forty years ago babes, torn from their mother’s arms, were smashed and killed like animals.  There was a column of eight thousand skulls in the middle of the field.  Each stared back at me with empty sockets and begged me not forget what was done to them out of cruel indifference.  In the torture rooms of S-21 I was appalled that beautiful and noble people could do this to themselves.  Then I thought of the trail of tears or the Holocaust or any of the other countless genocides in human history and came to the realization that behind the eyes of all men lies a darkness that comes foreword when ideology and hatred overtake love and compassion as the chief motivation for action.  But I also realized that’s not the only thing we all share.  The more I think about it the more I see the same basic emotions and desires behind everything seen today.  Cambodian people are people.  We all love, hate, worship, work, want our kids to succeed, and much more. 


These days its so easy to ignore all the evil or pain we hear happening in far away countries and to foreign peoples simply because the countries are so far away and the peoples foreign, but really we are all one people one species connected by the human dignity and souls we all possess.  That is the ethos of Mercer On Mission: to break down the barriers that divide this world through service and love. 



On the Road to Kampot

By Katherine Fayad, Nursing Student | May 28, 2016


     Today was one of the most exciting days I’ve experienced thus far (and in life, really). After two hustling, bustling and tuk-tuking days in Phnom Penh, we finally departed to our most important destination: Kampot. So far, this trip has caused me to question the very foundation on which I’ve grown up on; the need vs. desire for money. I had never seen poverty as I have the past two days. From the urban Phnom Penh to this very spot where I sit now, the poverty is so evident and apparent I can hardly believe it exists.


     I will continue to remind myself that this is the reason we are all here. We care. We want to change these people’s lives and we have the hearts and hands to attempt to do it. Tomorrow we will scope out the hospital we will be working in for the next two weeks. Sunday we will spend the whole day working together to sort medications and everything else you could need in a pop-up clinic. Monday is the day we have all been looking forward to: day one of clinic!



Crossing Cultures & Changing Lives

By Savannah Jones, Nursing Student | May 27, 2016


     Mercer On Mission is about crossing cultures and changing lives. Today was our first day in Cambodia. We arrived in Phnom Penh and visited the Royal Palace, the elephant museum, the Killing Fields, and a concentration camp during the Khmer Rouge known as S-21. 

     While in the city, I realized just how different Cambodia is from the United States. There are no traffic laws. There is no such thing as a crosswalk. Everyone drives motorcycles or mopeds and they rarely wear helmets. Today I saw a family of four on one motorcycle. The language and food are very different. Our tour guide told us a story about collecting ant eggs when he was younger to put in a salad. We also learned about religion in Cambodia. The Khmer people are mostly Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus. Although there are many differences between the two countries, one of the most profound differences is the lifestyle of the people. The average income in Cambodia is about $120.00 per month. Our tour guide pointed out that the income of the Khmer people is used to survive whereas the income of most Americans is used to make themselves comfortable. 

     The Khmer people are some of the most appreciative and hardest working people I have ever met. Despite all these differences, both the Khmer people and Americans all have a story to tell. Today while at the killing fields, we heard numerous accounts of what it was like to survive during the Khmer Rouge. It is inspiring to see such resilience and patriotism for one's country. It is only the first day but my life has already been forever changed. 



The Gray Zone

By Sydney Koenig, Undergraduate Student | May 27, 2016


Dear Readers,


     As you all know, Mercer on Mission focuses on crossing cultures and changing lives.  When I first heard this slogan, I thought it meant exclusively that we, as students, would be crossing the cultural lines to change Cambodian lives.  However, after only one day of experiencing the Khmer ways, I’ve learned that our slogan is meant to be applied both ways.


     Today, we experienced a slice of Phnom Penh.  Starting out bright and early with a trip to the Royal Palace, we learned that Cambodia’s gargoyles imitate dragons to represent the royal family, that the new king is elected from the previous king’s children by nine members from the government and Buddhist monks, and that the Silver Pagoda is named after its exported and reimported silver tile floors.  We also learned that Justis Ward can play anything (as you will all be enjoying soon)!


     From there, we visited the National Museum, where I was amazed by the age of the Khmer history, which far outdates our own. The statues where fantastically preserved, and they portrayed a combination of culture and religion unlike anything we were expecting.  Some of them even combined the two ancient Cambodian religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, to create statues that were blends of each religion’s key deities and heroes.  This taught me that culture, like the religion in these statues, is more than just a black and white experience.  It has gray regions that I think we all would benefit from adventuring in.


     We then took a more serious trip to the Killing Fields during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. By retracing the final steps of their victims, our American senses were brutally called to face the horrors these people has had to face in the far-too-recent history.  This awakening was completed when we wandered through the S-21 Concentration Camp.  Here we interacted with one of the two living survivors of the camp (7 survivors in total), saw the victims’ mug-shots upon entry to the camp, and got an uncomfortably close look at the gruesome and torturous murders that occurred there.


     The day could not have been more eye opening.  The Khmer are such welcoming people, sharing their attention, customs, and opinions with equal ease; after understanding the hardship their culture is coming from, I couldn’t help but be humbled by such genuine hospitality.  These experiences, much like the ancient Cambodian Hindus and Buddhists, form the blurred lines between our culture and the Cambodian culture. It has granted me the humility to be thankful for my blessings, and the inspiration to do what I can to bring them to others, I couldn’t be more thankful for the gray zone.