In her regular column from Cambodia, Patricia Sloan looks back on her first year as a health volunteer

I have been in Cambodia for more than a year - half way through my VSO placement - and the time has passed quickly. Looking back on my expectations and hopes for my placement before and immediately after I came to Cambodia, I can now reflect on how they have been met and exceeded.

My work schedule has been busy, developing solid working relationships and partnerships with the staff and directors in Mongkol Borei and Thmar Puok referral hospitals.

I have also forged a strong working partnership with another volunteer who is a nurse adviser, Mary Karingi, who complements my role as management adviser. Coming from Kenya, Mary brings a wealth of experience of working in a developing country and she has exposed me to alternative working practices.

Through our joint efforts, we have helped both hospitals to develop links to other international non-government organisations, to improve and pass the annual health ministry hospital quality assessment, and to source training for clinical staff from external agencies and institutions.

Not only has our partnership been productive in our day-to-day work, it has also been beneficial to have an element of peer supervision to test ideas and lend support when either of us are uncertain about a course of action.

Recently, we started a one-year programme of interventions sponsored by Astra Zeneca UK. The main objective of this programme is to improve the quality of hospital care experienced by women and children in three referral hospitals in Banteay Meanchey province.

The year ahead

There are a range of activities planned for the next year, ranging from workshops on paediatric nutrition and the nursing process, to funding study tours and clinical training courses in hospitals in Phnom Penh.

Each intervention is linked to an outcome measure, which will be assessed monthly by the hospitals and VSO to evaluate the impact of the funded programme at hospital level.

On a personal front, life in Asia is proving to be a wonderful experience. Living in the villages, sometimes with unreliable water and electricity supplies, has exposed me to a basic and simple lifestyle. Saving water and operating without power provides me with skills to reduce my overall energy consumption, which I will take with me when I return to the UK in 2010.

But these are not hardships, and I am more fortunate than most Khmer families, especially in the recent global financial crisis that has resulted in rice, a staple food here, doubling in price virtually overnight.

Living in the villages makes bigger towns such as Battambang, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh appear very cosmopolitan with their restaurants, bars and cafes catering for the increasing tourist trade.

While my appreciation of small luxuries is enhanced, I always look forward to going back to my home village and the real Cambodia.

About VSO

VSO is an international development charity that works through professional volunteers who live and work at the heart of communities in 34 countries around the world. Working in partnership with local colleagues, they share their skills and expertise to help find long-term solutions to poverty.

The charity recruits skilled and experienced professionals from a wide range of backgrounds, including health, education and business. Health management professionals are needed to develop hospital management systems through staff development, budget planning and resource management, particularly in Cambodia.

VSO volunteers usually have a professional qualification in their field, as well as a minimum of at least two years' experience. As well as professional skills, they must have the right personal qualities, which include confidence, flexibility and the ability to work effectively with others. Volunteer placements can last from two weeks to two years, with shorter-term assignments aimed at those with a high level of experience.

In return, VSO offers a comprehensive volunteer package including return flights, basic accommodation, a local living allowance, national insurance contributions for the period of service (or country equivalent), insurance, comprehensive pre-departure and in-country training, as well as support from a dedicated VSO team on the ground.

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