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  • A life changing journey to Cambodia

    Author: HealthTimes

Recently returned occupational therapist Rita Harrison describes the opportunity to work in Cambodia as a life changing experience.

“I love working with children, I love travelling and I love being challenged, so when it came time for me to decide to take the opportunity to combine those loves, I grabbed it.”

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That opportunity took the form of a placement in Cambodia through Projects Abroad, which specialises in matching volunteers with areas of need. Based in Phnom Penh, Rita worked at the National Baby and Children Centre (NBIC).

She describes the experience as one in which each day brought new challenges.

“Every morning I would think of the children at the centre and wonder what I could do to help as many as I could. The other volunteers and I spent our days at NBIC trying to do as much as we could in the short amount of time we had. We fixed wheelchairs, taught children to walk, went to orthotic appointments, worked on building their self-feeding skills, and played with them. Most of all, we tried to advocate for the children. We tried to give the children a voice when they could not speak and we tried to listen when no one could hear them.”

From a professional perspective, Rita reconnected with the fundamental frameworks on which occupational therapy is based. She also came away with some powerful memories.

“The day when I felt I finally made a connection with a non-verbal girl with autism. Every afternoon I took her for a walk around the grounds and chatted to her. She always seemed disinterested and unsure of me. Then one day, I sat down with her on a bench... she reached for my hand and rested her head on my shoulder. It was close to the end of my placement and I told her that I going home to Australia soon. She looked up at me and I felt it... I felt her understand. After a few minutes I motioned to get up to return to the centre... but she held my hand tighter. We stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. I continued to tell her stories. She continued to watch me.”


Rita advises anyone considering working abroad to “stop considering and take the leap.  It will change your life forever. It is amazing to see the effect of your direct involvement in another life, in a completely different environment from what you may have at home.”


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