Heads up: this post is about women’s health – I do talk generally about lady parts and problems.
My life in Cambodia is an ongoing series of classes: the formal classes I teach at the PTTC, the tutoring I do at Epic Arts, the mini-English class I teach to my co-teachers, and most recently a Women’s Club. I originally wanted to do club for the women at the PTTC to build on what the Club Samakey former VSO volunteer Charlene and I did with all the students last year – team, trust, and group work building exercises with an aim towards increasing the students’ confidence. Much to my delight, however, my co-teacher Bunda (who you may remember from the workshop we did on the new 4th grade English curriculum) told me she was interested in helping out.
Bunda brought a whole new dimension to the club because she knew that one of the things about which the women at the PTTC were most interested in learning was women’s health. I am, of course, immensely qualified to teach women’s health thanks to the one semester of Women’s Health and Reproduction I took in college. However, sparse though my own knowledge on the subject may be, the fact remains that that course, my general sex ed knowledge, and my magnificent googling abilities mean that I actually have access to more information than most of the women at the school. Couple that with the fact that Bunda can help me explain and brings some of her own knowledge to the table and you’ve got yourself a women’s health and confidence club!
The group is in its initial stages, but interest has been high. In addition to team and trust building exercises, we’ve talked about women we think of as our heroes (almost everyone chose their mother), and just last week we began going over women’s basic reproductive organs. The students are wonderful with how willing they are to put up with my butchered Khmer explanations.
“This is the uterus – it’s like a house for the egg. Every month your body makes the house as comfortable as possible for the egg, but if you don’t get pregnant then it cleans the whole house out,” I declare, waving vaguely a picture on power point. “Your cervix is like the gate, and the vagina is the road!”
Some of this isn’t new to them. In biology, students are shown basic pictures of reproductive organs, but many have forgotten the essentials and most have never heard about anything beyond the existence of a uterus. We talk about all sorts of questions, “Why am I tired and upset during my period?”“Why doesn’t it come regularly?” “Why does my stomach hurt?”“If you drink beer is it over faster?”
The other popular topic of discussion is about vaginal infections, which Bunda tells me (and I’ve heard from other people as well) is a real source of concern for women in Cambodia. There’s a cultural of silence surrounding this health problems—much as there still is in the US. In a country where douching is common, with a temperature and humidity ideal for growing all sorts of bacteria in damp places, most of the women in the group seemed relatively familiar with the symptoms of infections. What wasn’t clear to many were the causes.
The group is very educational for me as well – adding all sorts of delightful new words to my Khmer vocabulary I’m particularly grateful to Bunda for volunteering her time to do the club, as well as her suggestions for how we make the curriculum relevant to the specific concerns of the women at the PTTC. And, most especially, for transforming my tenuous analogies for body functions into actual explanations!
And while I’m being grateful – happy Thanksgiving to everyone back in the States!