Nurse writes new chapter in Phnom Penh

Thursday, 20 November 2014

For former retailer Peter Alexander, caring for some of the world’s poorest people in Cambodia was an experience money could not buy.

From managing retail stores and fast food outlets, the 24-year-old Challenger Institute of Technology Diploma of Nursing student, of Melville, has penned a new chapter in his life.

Peter recently returned from Phnom Penh, where he participated in a volunteer care program.

Developed in conjunction with One-2-One Charitable Trust in the Cambodian capital, the Challenger global mobility initiative enables student and staff teams to implement poverty reduction programs in the most underprivileged parts of the country.

Peter joined a group of ten Challenger nursing students and two lecturers who spent three-weeks administering basic first aid training at One-2-One’s Phnom Penh headquarters, and in the medical clinics of the city’s poorest areas. In these communities they were confronted with endemic poverty and slum-like conditions.

Peter, who will complete his nursing studies at the end of the year, commenced 18 months ago at the Institute’s state-of-the-art health and nursing facility at the Murdoch campus.

His early career involved working in retail and customer service roles, however, Peter’s passion was always for nursing.

“I enjoy interacting with people from all walks of life and that’s why I fell into customer service-focussed jobs early on in my career,” Peter said.

“Moving into nursing was a natural career progression for me. I have always been passionate about health and love caring for people, so this is the perfect profession for me. Nursing is something I will do for the rest of my life.”

Peter said the most eye-opening of the experiences in Cambodia was caring for children.

“A large number of the children were visibly unkempt, with bare feet, and every child was treated for head lice,” Peter said.

“Our care for the people mainly involved basic health education, where we taught the group about hygiene, treatment of minor wounds and self-care.”

Peter said no training in the world would have prepared the group for what they experienced.

“It was very confronting to treat a small child with HIV in one of the villages. In Australia we rarely need to be concerned with viruses such as these, and I personally found it very difficult to see a child so small and innocent with this incurable condition, particularly given the limitations the Cambodian people have in obtaining suitable medications and treatment,” Peter said.

“I can honestly say, though, that amidst all of the hardship, illness and poverty we encountered, what stood out most was the positivity and warmth of the Cambodian people. They were so grateful and appreciative of the care and this made the long days and hard conditions completely worth it. I gained so much out of this experience.”

Challenger Institute health and nursing lecturer Carole Little supervised the student group, providing on-the-ground support and training.

“The experience was incredibly humbling for both myself and the students,” Ms Little said.

"Our confidence grew as a group through experiencing what it would be like to work as a nurse in a third-world country."

“The students learnt very quickly to be inventive with medical supplies and equipment, given the scarcity of these items over there. We had to be resourceful and I’m sure, like me, the students have a newfound appreciation for our ease of access to these necessities in Australia.”

Challenger’s global mobility program covers a broad range of offshore and onshore opportunities, including development and capacity building, short term study tours, work or clinical placements, volunteer programs, global qualifications and the traditional student exchange concept.

The outbound mobility initiative is tied to the Institute’s broader Corporate Social Responsibility framework, which has the benefit of focusing outbound mobility on values relevant to Challenger Institute as an organisation.

PHOTO CAPTION: Peter Alexander administering head lice treatment

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