“Many women, especially those in rural areas, experience a gynecological health problem, but they tend to ignore it, considering it a problem that adult women normally face,” notes Ms. Monalisa Khun, one of the CAC volunteers who initiated a project to tackle gynecological health for women in rural areas. “Even though some of them know how serious the problem is, they do not know where to get help. Although gynecological issues have huge negative impacts, they can be prevented if women have proper knowledge.”
In the village of Tbaeng in Takeo province, it is common for elderly women to function as midwives and help women deliver their babies because of a lack of access to medical check-ups due to geographic and economic obstacles. Ms. Tang Kiv, a school director at Tepborei Elementary School, has served such a role: “Women in this village often consult me about their health problems because I used to help women as a midwife. That is why I am familiar with female problems here.” According to her, most of the women face a variety of gynecological issues, such as period cramps, irregular periods, leucorrhoea (whitish or yellowish vaginal discharge), pain after abortion and even prolapsed uterus.Although most of these issues can be prevented with appropriate knowledge, the women lack information about women’s health, hygiene and available medical services. In addition, women in the rural village are still too conservative to reveal their health issues, which makes them hesitant to consult with others on their health problems. Compounding such problems, the nearest hospital is located about 80 kilometers away from the village. Most people cannot afford transportation to the hospital, let alone any diagnostic fees, because of their low-income status. In addition, many people think that it is better to rely on elderly females than doctors because they find some doctors to be unprofessional.
“Gynecological health problems are caused by small things: people’s daily behaviors,” notes Ms. Khun. “It is important to start with the small things, which will make the greatest impact.”
She made up her mind to take action to address the issue and applied to the Community Action Challenge (CAC), an initiative launched by the Cambodia Volunteering Network (VolCam) aiming to encourage young people in Cambodia to identify a problem in their community, design a solution and take action to solve the issue. In 2017, VolCam provided financial support and capacity-building training to seven selected youth teams – including one led by Ms. Khun – so that they could sustainably run their projects.
Ms. Khun’s team conducted an information session at the Tepborei Elementary School in which women could learn about gynecological symptoms and prevention methods, understand the importance of having proper treatment, and receive contact information on affordable and reliable hospitals. Considering the economic conditions of the women in the village, the team visited affordable, NGO-run hospitals and collected information on their available services, costs, contact details and locations. Being mindful of the women’s shyness, the session was conducted by female medical students in a private room in order to ensure that the women would feel comfortable revealing their private issues. The target participants were only married women, but single women also came to the session. The team itself recruited local teenagers as its volunteer members so they could be engaged leaders who would take on this community issue even after the conclusion of the CAC project. After the session, they gave posters to the school to share knowledge with more villagers, including those who did not attend the session.
The project achieved great success. It was the first time for most of the participants to learn about gynecological health. In addition, 54 people joined the workshop, exceeding the team’s initial goal of 50. The team interviewed more than 10 participants before and after the event and the interviewees stated that they would apply the knowledge gained from the session to their daily lives. A few weeks after the project, the team followed up with 50 by phone and found that 20 per cent had visited hospitals to get treatment. The remaining 50 per cent of them have not yet contacted a hospital due to financial difficulties and/or limited time, while 30 per cent have used hospital services by calling a hospital to consult with a medical professional on their health problems. The project therefore led 50 per cent of session participants to obtain professional consultation and treatment. For the question “Did you apply knowledge gained from the session to your daily life?” 80 per cent of the participants answered they are already putting the knowledge into practice and remaining 20 per cent said they have not yet applied, but they are going to share their knowledge with their daughters and relatives.
The team has many ideas to sustain their project even after the conclusion of the CAC. They are planning to create a website to promote their activities, ask for more financial and technical support from hospitals, recruit more volunteer members and conduct the project in another village. Most importantly, their target participants will include not only married females but also young females, including high school students, because they realized the importance of educating young females who have responsibility to pass on their knowledge to their children when they become mothers. They will also secure the cooperation of professional doctors or nurses so that the team can provide more practical solutions for participants.