Cambodia: Tuk Tuks, Rice Fields and an Unexpected Visitor

I’d never called a stocktake “beautiful” until we did one on the balcony of Svay Chochep health centre in the mountainous region of Kampong Speu province, Cambodia.

The head nurse meticulously counted each tablet, capsule and injection while I wondered whether it made a difference that the medicines were sprawled on a wooden bench outside for 20 minutes or on the other side of the wall in an equally humid storage room.

We were three hours away from the capital city, Phnom Penh, where we’d started mSupply training a few weeks earlier. Since then, we’d trained staff in over 25 pilot health facilities in the capital city and Kampong Speu province.

Now we were visiting each site and getting mSupply up and running for real.

In Phnom Penh, we’d travelled between sites in tuk tuks whose drivers were among the best multitaskers I’d ever met. It wasn’t unusual to be navigating the winding chaos of the city through a tropical downpour, while simultaneously watching a movie on a phone mounted to the windshield.

Kampong Speu was another world altogether: a quiet place surrounded by rice fields, lakes and colourful wooden houses scattered beneath the mountains.

We navigated our way to most remote facilities hoping the GPS coordinates leading to a patch of green on the map were right. At one point, we took a wrong turn and ended up inside a national park before being escorted out by an unimpressed ticket inspector.

When we eventually made it to each facility, our mission was simple: install mSupply, enter stock into the system, and help staff apply what they’d learnt in training to real life.

Of course, unexpected things popped up like the occasional internet outage, a lost monitor or a missing staff member.

But things were going well at Svay Chochep.

We returned to the storage room with a completed stocktake just as my colleague finished installing mSupply on the computer which, only a short time ago, had still been secured in its original packaging.

As we launched mSupply for the first time, all eyes on the screen, the nurse quietly snuck out of the room.

It was only 11am: could it really be lunch time already?

As we waited and wondered whether we could find a beef lok lak or fish amok nearby, a shrieking sound broke the silence of the countryside: a baby’s cry!

We rushed out to meet the newborn who was no more than a few minutes old and surrounded by doting parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents and, now, a few extra strangers.

Thankfully, today’s delivery was smooth and both mother and baby were healthy.

I wondered about the journey they’d made to get to this clinic today and what would have happened if there were unexpected complications during delivery. If any medicines were needed, were they available in that storage room where we’d just installed mSupply?

At the end of the day, we work so that families like the one we met in Svay Chochep will be able to access the right medicines if and when they need them.

What an amazing way to remind ourselves of the lives that our work impacts every day.


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