Karen Cardwell, a part of Vail Resorts' Revenue Management team in Broomfield, journeyed to Cambodia on an EP40 service trip. She shares the impact of her journey below. Read on to learn about the day-to-day experiences of an Epic Volunteer and how EpicPromise supported her trip.
My time in Cambodia on the EP40 Service Trip
Arriving in Siem Reap was as if a mix of cultures or generations came together and met at the airport. First, the customs and baggage area was super modern, surprisingly to me as I was thinking more along the lines of expecting a Caribbean arrival experience. Thanks to said modern age, I was able to get an eVisa and go straight to immigration.
After getting my bags, I met up with my Tuk Tuk driver sent from the hotel, Sumbat. He was ever so gracious and gave me the slowest drive from the airport to town. A tuk tuk is a motorcycle with a cart attached to the back. Some people have sponsors on the back, others have them tricked out with lights underneath, and most have a hammock to hang when they don’t have any riders. A tuk tuk can easily sit 4 and had no problem with me and my backpack bag.
As we made our way through the outskirts of town, I found the other half of the culture that I was expecting. Lots of establishments right off the road with plastic chairs and tables serving up food and. As we made our way into city center (slowly, which actually turned out to be a blessing as you got to experience more of the town) we started passing more people and amazingly nice hotels. Due to the holidays, the lights were out and very Christmas focused with some New Year’s in there. Cambodian New Year’s is April 13th so any New Year’s was catering towards Westerners. The Night Markets were lit up and quite amazing as they weaved in and around the river. Even at 10pm in was bustling with people everywhere.
On our first service day we headed out in some Tuk Tuks loaded with the portable chiropractic tables and made our way over to a village were we met up with some translators in a beautiful structure consisting of 3 walls, beautiful art work, a Buddha, and some much needed fans. The roof provided shade and the fans some air movement as we set up the space. The translators had already shared that there would be volunteers in the area for the day and chairs were brought from a local home and lined up for patients to use as a makeshift waiting queue. Right on time people started lining up for care as 3 elderly women were the first to appear.
My job was to use the translators to find out what the issues were on the patients and bring them over to the Chiropractors as space was available. As it is currently rice harvest and vegetable harvest, the most common complaint was easily lower back pain and we just dug a little more to see if there was anything else causing issues. Second set of issues were traditionally from falls and could be upwards of 5 years prior. It was amazing to hear stories from the villagers of a fall and just dealing with it for the past 4 years. The opportunity of visiting a doctor or being able to afford it was little to none.
As the first patients arrived, we saw a woman, who we later found out was 81, walking completely at a 90 degree angle hinged at the hip. I wish I could have taken a picture of her when she got there and when she left. To see such an extreme issue blew me away and yet Lauren (our lead Chiropractor) just said “OK, let’s do this.” Not only did the villagers get up on the table with fearlessness but they also brought their children to visit as well. It was amazing to see the younger people in the village doing shuttles on the motorcycle for the older generations and how the ones who had been adjusted stayed behind to help translate what was up next. The expressions on their faces the first time they had their back or neck cracked was always one of shock and fear and then relief. Then they were happy to stay around and laugh with their friends and relatives as it happened to them.
Some of my favorite moments from Day 1 were seeing the 81 year old walk out of the structure completely upright and come back with her husband who said that he had ringing in his ears since a fall 5 and a half years prior and now it was gone; the lady who danced off the property because she hadn’t felt that good in years; the first kid whose fearlessness led to his friends also getting adjusted; the sweet smiles on their faces of just pure thankfulness that someone came to help; selfishly learning more about chiropractic work and why it is important at any stage in your life and especially as a young person.
As we headed back to Hariharalaya, I was filled with a new sense of purpose. As the day went as I was able to help with interviewing patients before and after their adjustments, keeping the kids entertained, making sure the Chiros had water and bananas to keep up with the patient load and then cleaning up the space. It was then that I realized that while I don’t have the chiropractic skill set, I definitely have others that can be used to do good and I couldn’t look any more forward to Day 2. The hours spent with the Chiropractors and the villagers sure accomplished that mission allowed me the chance to step back and take look at my life from a place of calm.
After lunch on New Year’s Day we loaded up the Tuk Tuk’s and headed off to our next village for day 2 of service. We got to another beautiful structure in another village and got to work. This venue didn’t look to have been used recently so we got to sweeping both the leaves and the red dirt out of the main work space. As harvest is not during rainy season, the dust gets heavy so we had a lot to sweep. This was about the time we found out that we weren’t going to get our translators. Luckily we already had one day under our belts so we had some tools on how to communicate different positions and some basic words in order to get the locals comfortable. Our Tuk Tuk driver was the same one we had on Day 1 so he was a huge help to start.
As on the first day, we got some patients right away and started working through the locals. There were a couple of differences in day 1 and day 2 as we got a lot more children on this day and the waiting area became very segregated between men on one side of the stairs and women on the other. It was hilarious to watch people get up from both sides when a table would open up and then start conversing back and forth on who was really next. Most of the time they were very gracious and only one change was made to the order as one man had been there a while and kept getting passed over.
Another change was the dramatic injuries we saw on day 2. It seemed like there were more major issues, like the man who fell 4 years ago and most of his entire right side went numb. Steph (another chiropractor) was nervous about working on it if he had something major broken that hadn’t healed but she went through an analysis and did what she could. Lauren mentioned that it might have been a stroke that caused the paralysis and not just a fall. The Chiropractic lessons I had this day were Find the Yes…just keep looking for any issues and find the right place to adjust and don’t question yourself. Once you find the yes, you have your answer. The other piece I asked about was how long it would take to see the effects of the adjustments and Lauren said within the day for most of them. The alignment work would relieve 70% of their pain and be something they would see immediately.
The adjustment of a baby as she lay on her mother was something I never knew happened and would have been scared to death to do. Evelyn and Lauren were rock stars and it drove Evelyn to tears as the first time adjusting a little baby. He was a trouper and being laid on his mother kept him super calm for the adjustment.
My day overall was made so bright due to the children and my time with them. My friends jokingly/seriously call me the baby whisperer which has continued even as my family and friends’ kids have gotten older. Apparently this translates to Cambodia as well since as we got through the bulk of the initial rush, I started spending more time with the village kids.
We hadn’t been able to convince all of them to get on the table and Lauren holds firm that the earlier you can work on kids, the better for them. She even explained that she can help to adjust wandering eyes if you can get to the brain stem early enough. So I spent some time, getting to know them through some English they learned in school and some Khmer words I had picked up (they were much better at English than I was at Khmer). We eventually got all of the kids on the tables, which was a huge win for them.
The last half hour was spent with the kids going around the village and grabbing items and bringing them back to me to either learn the word in English or I would read the English words on the wrappers they brought. They were having so much fun running around and we connected so well.
The final service day was for the entire staff and their families of Hariharalya. We set up the tables in the Yoga Hall and started getting the staff through the process. They helped us out all week and we did our best to give back to them and their families.
As most spoke some English, we didn’t need any translators so some of the non-chiropractors took the bikes down to the local Temple that is on the Angkor Temple map which meant there were some markets. We purchased some souvenirs and headed back to check in on the team. My Chiropractic learning for today was about Yoga instructors and how it was adjusting them. Lauren described adjusting the super flexible as similar to adjusting babies. They are super fluid and it can be a struggle to get them in the right position since they can easily get into any position.
As the staff and teachers finished, Lauren asked use me for science so she could run through some real time lessons with the other Chiropractors. I happily jumped on the table and let my neck be used for some clavicle analysis. I had some more learnings during this session and it’s just super interesting to hear the justification for each move or for each touch and what its purpose is.
After the trip ended, Lauren and I shared what we learned during the trip, what we liked and what we didn’t like. At this time, we realized that we have very different skill sets that while contrasting, are actually quite complimentary to putting together more of these types of service trips. I can use my budgeting, travel knowledge, competitive shopping, and logistical mindset to create the base for a trip where Lauren and her colleagues will do the physical work at the chosen sites. The more we talked the more excited we got about the possibilities we could create together and know that there is much more to come. Seeing the reaction from the patients and realizing how much could be done with a little bit of time and desire, makes the extra time commitment a no brainer.
I am ever grateful for this experience and will spend more time sharing the experience and encouraging others to do the same.