A smile to my face – and a tear to my eye

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I have spent a fair amount of time in SE Asia over the years and relish in discovering new places and meeting new people. The experiences you have in destinations like Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand can not be replicated anywhere and I have some incredible memories.

One that sticks in my mind and brings a smile to my face – and a tear to my eye – is a time in the Seuang River region, north of Luang Prabang in Laos. I was visiting a group of Australian nursing and midwifery students who were taking part in a health outreach project in conjunction with the local health district; the group had set up their mobile clinic in a little village that had no electricity or running water but the friendliest group of people you could meet. Kids ran around bare foot and little old ladies sat outside their ramshackle houses smoking their pipes and nattering with their neighbours.

  • Occasionally the local health care worker may visit to assist, but generally the women cope well enough on their own and natural births are the norm rather than the exception

The group had been told that a baby had been born a couple of nights before and that neither mum nor baby were doing too well. Areas like the Seuang River in Laos do not have antenatal services and mums give birth at home with the help of family and neighbours. Occasionally the local health care worker may visit to assist but generally the women cope well enough on their own and natural births are the norm rather than the exception as they seem to be all too often in the Western world these days. The lady in question had had a fairly traumatic labour but a healthy boy had been born and no one was too worried. When the group of midwifery students visited the home however they found mum sleeping and looking incredibly worn out and pale and a poor baby boy struggling for air and obviously in distress.

At first the group of Australians were incredibly overwhelmed and emotional. There was little they could do they thought as it was obvious the mum was not breast-feeding and the baby was therefore starving to death after only a few days after entering this world. The group’s supervisor however was more positive and took matters into her own hands. Within a few hours she had the baby feeding successfully from mum and had provided education on how best she could cope over the next crucial 48 hours. It was touch and go but by the time the group left to travel home to Australia ‘Tommy’ was thriving and mum had a smile on her face and colour back in her cheeks – and a group of young Australian students had been taught in a way not achievable in a lecture theatre back home. A few years on Tommy is now running around the village – which now has electricity and running water of a kind thanks to visiting groups of responsible tourists – causing mischief but still putting a smile on his mum’s face.

It’s experiences like this that make me proud to work within responsible travel, not only for the effects it can have on local communities but to those that choose to travel through them.

Fiona Reeves

Holding a MSc in Development Studies with reference to Children and Development, Fiona's education compliments her passion for community empowerment and just distribution of opportunities and access to wealth and resources in society.

Through her work in Southeast Asia, she has been instrumental in ensuring promotion and partnership of child safe organisations within the tourism industry.
Fiona Reeves

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