Category: Volunteer Blogs

Dr. Sidney Sunwoo

Sidney is an emergency room doctor from Australia working as a pediatrician here at LFHC. He is also one of only two doctors at our Development Clinic.

“It is difficult to describe the experience of being a volunteer at Lao Friends Hospital for Children. I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to work in a hospital that delivers quality progressive care with the co-operation of excellent local and visiting staff. The difference the hospital is making to the local community, and the groundwork being laid for the future care of children through the establishment of services and training of local staff is indeed inspirational to see and be a part of.

However, there have also been difficult times while volunteering. Specifically, I have not been able to care for children the way I can back in Australia. Invariably, the reason has been due to the limitation of resources, be it the ordering of tests, the supply of medicines, or the ability to provide services. When faced with these challenges, especially when the need is life saving, the sadness felt is profound.

Yet it is in these moments of heaviest sadness that the families will turn to us, compose themselves, and then take the time to say a heartfelt thank-you before taking their child home. These moments are profoundly humbling and it is these moments that defines the experience of being a volunteer here for me. In that simple act of showing gratitude — despite what we could not do — I see a depth and generosity of spirit that is in abundance among the people of Lao.

It is unquestionably the people of Lao that set working at Lao Friends Hospital for Children apart from other experiences I have had. The people of Lao have a true understanding of community, an innate curiosity, a gentle compassion, and an accepting perspective on life that have been fine food for my unknowingly hungry soul.

Working at Lao Friends Hospital for Children is a life-changing experience. I recommend it to all those who can, because I can assure you, being constantly surrounded by the wealth of humanity inherent in the people of Lao, I have never felt like a volunteer, not even for a minute. I’ve never before received so much back for the work I have done. If ever I needed a reminder of what it means to be grateful for what I have, and how to care for my neighbor, the Lao people have done so without me even realizing, and I am humbled and grateful every day for this opportunity.”

Nicole Uhlick, RN

Nicole Uhlick is a Registered Nurse, with a BscN from MacEwan University, Canada, and a Diploma in Tropical Medicine from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK. Her background is in labour and delivery, oncology care, and emergency nursing in Edmonton, Canada. She volunteered for two months at LFHC in 2017.

“It has been a privilege to experience the way in which Friends Without A Border is building the capacity, knowledge, and skills of the local staff to be able to provide free healthcare to their own communities. I am humbled by the warmth and eagerness of the Lao staff to constantly learn and welcome volunteers as their peers. Each shift together, I have seen the Lao staff gain knowledge, confidence, and skills, as I have from them. The care that all the staff at Lao Friends Hospital for Children have for their patients is tangible, and the smiles on the faces of children here as they get better is something that will always stay with me. Two months has not been enough time here and would love to come back again!”

Learn more about volunteering at LFHC.

Dr. Mark Boyko, MD CCFP-EM DTM&H

Mark volunteered at LFHC for 6 weeks in 2016.

“Volunteering 6 weeks at LFHC in Luang Prabang was a tremendous experience. The people here are amazing. Having worked in many resource-poor regions I can say with confidence that this hospital is doing an incredible job to bring together a variety of backgrounds to benefit this region of Laos. Though we still lack many of the resources we wish we had, the hospital setting is clean, supportive, and carries a positive feeling. The Lao doctors are wonderful, knowledgeable, and keen for learning – they also taught me many things about Lao culture and local disease patterns (many of which you won’t ever see in North America). What impressed me most was how integrated all the services are – nursing, physiotherapy, nutrition, pharmacy, radiology etc – all come together to help care for children in a resource-poor setting. The daily challenges of managing patients with limited equipment and limited diagnostics are met with a caring attitude while respecting the varied cultural practices of the people of Laos. It was a pleasure to be part of this Laos team for a short period. I would encourage anyone willing to volunteer to come and check out life here.”

Margaret Wing, Pharmacist

Margaret travelled from Canada to volunteer at LFHC’s Pharmacy in summer of 2015.

When I made the decision to volunteer at Lao Friends Hospital for Children I knew I would get the opportunity to spend time in one of the most beautiful countries in South East Asia and learn about the challenges of providing healthcare to children in this area. What I didn’t expect to find was a group of the most wonderful and compassionate healthcare workers that I have ever met in my career. The concept of creating effective healthcare teams is discussed and debated extensively in developed countries but here in this little corner of the world in a small pediatric hospital fondly referred to by the staff as “Friends”; the concept of team is a reality.

The amazing group of healthcare professionals and support staff at Lao Friends Hospital for Children truly work together and depend upon each other to deliver compassionate care to many children in need day after day. Now at the end of my volunteer time I am very lucky to not just call the hospital “Friends”, but I am able to say the same of the team of people that work so very hard there every day.

Dr Saschveen (Saschy) Singh

Dr. Saschy volunteered at LFHC for 4 weeks from November to December 2015. She is a GP and Global Public Health doctor from Australia with a keen interest in child health and tropical medicine. She spent her time in Luang Prabang working across the outpatient, inpatient and emergency departments with the Lao staff (as well as riding her little bike around to the many temples in town and soaking up the serene atmosphere in the historical centre!).

I found out about the Lao Friends Hospital For Children a mere few months after it opened, when I was browsing child health development projects online. After reading about Friends without a Border’s incredible journey over the years with the Angkor Children’s Hospital, and what they planned to do at LFHC in Laos, I swear that my heart skipped a beat! I was instantly touched, and incredibly inspired by the goal they had set out to achieve. Next thing I knew, fast forward only a few months, and I was on a plane from Perth to Luang Prabang, and was soon riding a bicycle on the streets of the old-town, in awe of the beautifully lit temples in the evening, the sound of the gongs, and the mighty Mekong river beside me.

On my first day, before getting started in the outpatient department, I first met the wonderful team of Lao nurses, doctors, lab staff, radiographers, pharmacists and administration staff, as well as the expat team volunteers from all over the world who were there to guide the project and provide much needed educational opportunities within the hospital. I was so impressed by all the staff’s kindness & warmth, their positive attitudes, and their collective dedication to the cause.

The week that I arrived they were just about to open the Emergency Department, and there was a lot of training going on: resuscitation simulations, APLS skills and suturing workshops were all ‘on the go.’ It was great to be involved in some simulations and later see the local staff putting those essential skills into practice in the emergency room.

The medicine I encountered during my trip was thrilling to say the least! You never knew what was about to walk through the door. . . everything from swollen bellies from Ascaris worms and thalassemia in the outpatient department; to cases of acute dengue, TB, and osteomyelitis on the wards; to acute cardiac failure from severe thiamine deficiency (wet beri beri) in the emergency department; and some of the most distressing levels of severe acute malnutrition that I had personally seen.

Laos may seem worlds away from my usual practice as a city GP in Australia, however what I have seen the world over, from Senegal, to Bangladesh, to Peru, to Sydney, and now Laos… is that in order to live a full and healthy life, all children need access to the same fundamental things: safe water/sanitation, adequate nutrition, a roof over their heads, basic preventive health (including vaccines), education, and of course: love.

It really is unacceptable that in today’s day & age, with all our technological advances and wealth and progress, that there are so many children that have access to only 1 of those things: their parents love (which unfortunately is too often not enough to protect them from the cruelty of the environment they were born into).

With the language barriers (unfortunately my Lao skills are still in their infancy! and some families were from minority tribes with very different dialects) some parents maybe could not  express in words to our staff what they felt when their child received the care they needed at the hospital, free of cost & free of judgment, but you could certainly see their relief in their faces.

I spoke to many local people in town on my days off , who spoke so fondly of LFHC. Already the people have seen what a difference the hospital is making to their community. LFHC is not just about treating individual children, I can see that there is a very clear effect it will have on current and future public health in Laos. The Laotian people are dealing with difficult uncertain times as they are propelled into the future with technology, and through rapid development, which in fact has had many negative impacts on their communities (such as the Chinese Dam project that will devastate many villages that depend on the Nahm Ou river as their lifeline), however as an outsider I was really struck by the incredible resilience and resolve of the Laotian people, and I do believe that it is projects such as the LFHC that will empower the community, by ensuring the health and prosperity of their children.
I was really excited to arrive in Laos for the first time and to become involved in the early days of a long term project which represents such an incredibly important leap forward for child health in Laos. I am certainly looking forward to returning to Laos again, and of course to following LFHC’s remarkable journey in the coming years.

Dr. Ramona Sunderwirth, MD MPH FAAP FAWM

Lao Friends Hospital for Children embodies what we all strive for – a commitment to improve and maintain the health of children through sharing knowledge and developing lasting resources. It was my first visit to Laos, but certainly not the last. The Laotian people – the staff at the hospital, our patients’ parents posses a gentleness, a serene, inner strength and resolve that’s apparent even in difficult situations. Their generosity of spirit permeated the working days and nights in a way I’ve never experienced in all my years as a professional pediatrician, in the US and abroad.

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Winter Ghostkeeper, Child Life Therapist

I did learn a few words in Lao, mainly colours and numbers thanks to the card game UNO. UNO was a big hit with the older patients. There were many occasions we would rolled a couple of beds and a wheelchair together so a group of patients and staff could play together. I even caught a group of dads playing it together one day!

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Megan Lee, Nurse

As a nurse, I came to Laos because I wanted to give what little help I could to people who were less fortunate than I was. After my time here, I have learnt about how incredibly rewarding it is to give to people who are truly in need of your help. Some of the patients travel for eight hours, across rivers, hike miles and hitch on the back of cattle trucks to come to LFHC.

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Dr. Setthy Ung

With each life saved within moments from irreversible arrest, I have seen increasingly bright sparks in the eyes of the training doctors and nurses reflecting their rising level of confidence in their own abilities and most importantly a sense of hope for the future of their hospital, community and the children of Laos. As an emergency physician, to save a life with one's own two hands is one thing but to save the lives of many presently and potentially in the future through the hands of others you have trained, to me is a joy that cannot be surpassed. If you would like to share in this 'gift of empowerment' please join us at the LFHC.

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Drs. Bill and Marilee Miner

Every day was a joy to sit with them and help them with their history-taking and physical exams, and discussing differential diagnoses. They are sharp!! You are creating such a superb institution here and should be very proud of their accomplishments.

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