Student Health Matters at PEPY Empowering Youth by Brendan O’Shea and Corinna Hopkins

In the second week of February, Corinna and I were nearing the end of a 3 week holiday that started in Hanoi, included Saigon, Phnom Penh, and finally began to wind down in Siem Riep. We were part of a group, and the holiday was a key part of a ‘big ticket’ wedding anniversary.

The whole journey, was, as they say, a shock to the senses. We brought surgical masks and dodged Coronavirus along the way! We read into the history and culture of the region, but the reality was truly overwhelming, mainly in a positive sense. There was a fair bit scheduled, but we were able to extend the last day, to include a Workshop on ‘Student Health Matters for Adolescents and Young Adults’ at PEPY Empowering Youth, in Siem Riep. PEPY Empowering Youth is a partner organisationPEPY of the Cambodia Ireland Changemaker Network (CICN)*.

There are clearly substantial differences between Siem Riep and Kildare, but the similarities are much greater.





When you immerse in a roomful of bright, enthusiastic, curious young adults, there are a range of common interests and concerns. If the session runs well, once the polite preliminaries are over, they will race well ahead of you.

The two of us work in General Practice in Kildare. We have sons currently aged 19, 23 and 25. Our backgrounds include GP, Business and Economics, Nursing and 3rd and 4th level education in Health Care. We had a vague idea of what might be useful to table for discussion, and got some expert steers from Channa and Nadine. ‘Language might be an issue, and this group have started English only 3 months ago,’ advised Channa, ‘so keep slides simple, and diagrams and pictures are good.’ Nadine advised ask questions, and ‘make it all a big game.’ We included time for that standard device, of written confidential questions from the floor, on whatever topics students were curious about or challenged by, in the context of health and family practice. The two main educational themes were personal health for young people and healthcare as a career, both presented and wrapped up in cultural exchange of family life in Cambodia and Ireland.

We had a 2 hour period that felt like 10 minutes. It was a game, full of unexpected turns and twists, with challenging questions, a few dead ends (‘We just don’t know about that…..’) and much reflection. Channa forwarded a further list of questions from the group the next day. There was keen interest in family life and culture in Ireland. We outlined the type of work in our Clinic, particularly the reasons why young people use it, and what services are relevant for them in Ireland (Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Adjustment Reactions, Bullying, Substance Misuse, Contraception, Screening for Sexually Transmitted Infections, Acne, Overweight).

Expressed concerns and interest clearly relate to planning your family. ‘When and what do you do before you have children? What do you need to be doing to maintain your health? What constitutes a healthy diet? How do you know what a good weight is? Why did we choose to work in a Community Clinic (GP) as opposed to a Hospital? What did we find interesting about Cambodia? What did we find (…ahem…) ‘less interesting’ about Cambodia? What can we do to have smart children? What kinds of contraception are safest? Can you tell me about how to be a good mother or a good father? What should I do when I have a headache? If people don’t get enough sleep what happens to them? Why do we like to work with people? How old are people in Ireland and why? What kinds of illnesses do people get in Ireland? Why are some people married and have no children…..’ And many more.

And so it went. We absorbed huge energy from the group, and a strong feeling that there is power and purpose at PEPY Siem Riep. As many people from the occident frequently observe when travelling in the orient, the profound courtesy (which complements the sense of fun) is deeply impressive and inspiring.

We left behind a slide deck, with some online resources, including www.patient.co.uk, an excellent plain English health resource which is encyclopedic in its scope, reliable and regularly updated. We left ‘Student Health Matters,’ a Smartphone App initially developed by Student Health in Carlow IT, and which can be used as it is, or easily customised for any educational institution where there are numbers of adolescents and young adults. We recommended the work of Hans Rosling, both in his Ted Talks and his last book ‘Factfulness.’

Both of us have links with Trinity College Dublin. Edmund Burke, a Trinity Alumnus from the 18th Century (whose statue is on your right, as you walk out of College, onto College Green) articulated the idea of The Contract between the Generations.

As thinking goes, and in our busy worlds, it still has traction and currency in the 21st Century, and perhaps now even more so.

And it travels very well.

Corinna Hopkins and Brendan O’ Shea are Practice Nurse and GP at The Bridge Medical Centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare, and Brendan is also Asst. Professor at Trinity College Dublin.

Cambodia Ireland Changemaker Network (CICN) is an inclusive initiative that supports partnership between organisations and individuals to improve education in Cambodia.  Every year, for the past six years PEPY Empowering Youth students and staff visit Ireland to teach and learn for #3weeksinspring and Irish teachers visit Siem Reap to teach and learn for #3weeksinsummer.   www.cambodiaireland.com


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