“My visit to Cambodia will always be a part of me,” said Veronica Teaford, a junior studying public health at Utah Valley University. “I had always dreamed of providing humanitarian service in a developing nation.”
That dream came true in June for Teaford and four other public health majors who spent nearly two weeks of their summer teaching hygiene and building latrines in rural villages. The Empowering Cambodian Lives program is shepherded by UVU Associate Professor of Public Health Brian Barthel.
“The students researched the most significant health issues of Cambodian school-age children and prepared materials and lessons in their native Khmer language. This required interaction with our Cambodian contacts to verify that the Khmer words and phrases used in their presentation materials accurately portrayed the message they intended to convey,” said Barthel.
“We did so many things!” said Teaford. “Our main projects included teaching school-aged children (and some high schoolers) hygiene.”
Other subjects included sanitation and preventing drug abuse and disease. Elementary school-age classes also received a lesson in dental health.
The UVU team also rolled up their sleeves outside the classrooms to install latrines in partnership with Solidarity Fund for Rural Development; a Cambodian humanitarian organization.
“We went to poorer houses in rural villages outside of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and put in latrines, which we hope will decrease the spread of disease and make our friends in Cambodia a lot healthier and happier,” Teaford said.
“Even though we didn’t have a common language, we all shared in the joy of our time together as we assisted them in providing water filters and building latrines,” said Barthel. “While in this work, the village children would flock to our latrine worksites, smiling in amazement at the interactions with our ‘peculiar’ UVU students.”
The students’ work could be the difference between life and death. Waterborne illness is common in Cambodia, where more than two million people do not have access to clean water.
“We taught the families how to obtain the pure drinking water, and from now on they can get the good drinking water and do not need to buy bottled water,” said Cambodian Facilitator Chhay Leang Suy. They were also happy to get the latrine project from our program. During the hand-over activity, we taught the family members to clean hands and take care of the toilet each day after using it.”
Teaford said that, while the work was not easy, it was rewarding.
“Studying abroad is so important because you get to explore someone else’s life for some time,” she said. “You get to walk in their shoes and explore what their country has to offer. You get to explore different religious monuments and thrive in a place you’re not accustomed to. Ultimately, you get to develop and grow as a person by taking those challenging steps of doing something different, but something so incredibly important.”
UVU’s Empowering Cambodian Lives program is funded in part by doTERRA and other sources.
The students had to move quickly to apply for available grants and funding. They utilized newly and quickly acquired grant writing skills, and each student was successful in acquiring partial funding,” said Barthel. “The hope for this year’s UVU students participating in the 2022 Empowering Cambodian Lives program was that they could apply their public health classroom knowledge and skills to real-life situations in a developing nation setting.”
But, Teaford said she learned many lessons that went beyond her major.
“I also gained a greater appreciation for service and helping people. Our 8-5 jobs in Cambodia were serving people, and I enjoyed every single aspect of it. I want to reach outside of myself more and help those around me,” she said.
She is also thankful for Associate Professor Barthel and the Cambodian guides who made the trip possible. Barthel is grateful for the support he received from across campus.
“Thanks to all the UVU departments who contributed! This includes UVU Wellness Programs, the dental hygiene program, and UVU Athletics,” Barthel said. He is particularly grateful for Trevor Carte, program director, and Kerri Scott, program manager, of UVU Student Wellness Programs.
In Cambodia, families are also sharing their gratitude for the work completed by UVU’s Public Health students. “The families would like to thank UVU and doTerra Healing Hands Foundation for supporting them. They would like to wish everyone to have good health and more happiness and joy in the year 2022,” said Suy.