Vets Beyond Borders member Kate Taylor, a vet nurse and dog trainer from Queensland, went on her first volunteer mission to Cambodia last month and returned with a big smile and wonderful, inspiring stories to share!
“Uplifting would be the best word to describe my volunteer experience in Cambodia for so many reasons,” she said. “On a personal level I quickly felt connected to a group of like-minded animal carers even though we spoke different languages. The work was sometimes confronting, but ever so rewarding and I came away with a lasting feeling of satisfaction having done just a tiny amount to contribute.”
Kate volunteered at the Phnom Penh Animal Welfare (PPAW) clinic in Phnom Penh. Before she left, she was looking forward to achieving a sense of understanding and ultimately to being useful in a practical way.
“Predictably, it took a while to settle in and see what work was needed where,” she explained. “The key to being useful was to be flexible and do whatever job was required as each day was different. I am sure I only scratched the surface on gaining an understanding of both Cambodian culture and history and about the challenges faced by vets. But my understanding was certainly greater than it would have been as just a tourist.”
Kate’s tasks were many and varied. She found the PPAW hospital ward was often full and included many animals requiring long term care. Her tasks involved basic nursing and making each patient as comfortable, pain free and happy as possible. Sometimes, this just meant sitting with them and spending time giving love.
“There were a lot of animals with awful skin conditions, so bathing patients was a regular duty. I monitored many anaesthetics, mostly for desexing surgeries and gave rabies vaccinations,” she said.
Kate was surprised her dog training skills were equally in demand!
“I spent time every day teaching the homeless dogs at PPAWS basic obedience to increase their adoption chances. I also taught staff basic training methods so this work could continue,” she said.
Kate also accompanied PPAWS staff on school visits to help educate children about animal safety. In quiet times, she chipped away at the vast pile of card files that needed entering on the new computer data base. Plenty to do!
Kate fondly remembers having daily lunches together, sitting crossed-legged on the bamboo mat and sharing traditional Khmer food.
“But the most memorable experience was being part of a team of five workers who traveled to a rural village. We stayed two days running desexing clinics at a local health centre one day and at a temple the next, and administering many rabies injections to cats and dogs who nearly all arrived by scooter in an assortment of boxes and bags!” she said.
Kate was also surprised to discover that Cambodians enjoy a daily siesta. She said the clinic closed everyday between 12 and 2, and everyone had a sleep! Great idea!
“I was also surprised at the high levels of pet ownership, even in the city. Cambodia has one dog to every three humans, and rabies is a major issue with around 800 people dying each year, the majority of whom are children,” she added.
Would Kate recommend vets and vet nurses to volunteer for Vets Beyond Borders?
“Absolutely! Volunteering is such an enriching experience,” she said. “It really helps build your nursing skills without all the technical tools we take for granted. But mostly you will make lasting friends and connections with like-minded people and bring home a treasure of memories. Vets Beyond Borders are great at helping to facilitate your volunteering experience and make the planning easy. PPAWS don’t have a lot of volunteers and would welcome more, so do it! You won’t regret it.”