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Roberts teaches first aid to Buddhist monks in Cambodia

Two countries, one goal: overseas placements succeed

Overseas placements develop leadership skills and make worldwide improvements real.
By Justine Roberts

In my childhood, I was inspired by a Little Golden Book my grandmother read me. It was about people from all around the world who, although culturally different, shared the same needs.

Guided by the principle of the common good, I believe we are one human family. It became my ambition to travel, to immerse myself in the culture of the countries I visited and do what I could to be of service. This led me on a personal journey from Baucau to Battambang.

Baucau is the second-largest city in Timor-Leste and lies on the eastern side of the country. It has a population of 16,000; only the capital, Dili, has more. As a bachelor of nursing practice leadership student, I had the opportunity to take my community engagement placement abroad through the Train the Trainer program.

The program delivers education designed to empower local healthcare workers and village volunteers in the provision of basic primary care relating to the specific healthcare needs of the Timorese.

As a student nurse, my role was to assist with delivery by elaborating on the curriculum and demonstrating how resources we had provided were to be used. Communication was a challenge, as I had minimal Tetum and the participants spoke different dialects and had limited English. At this point, I realised the enormity of the task and the complexity of delivering evidence-based practice to the Timorese.

In addition to the Train the Trainer program, I had the opportunity to visit the clinics and orphanages where our participants worked. These visits had the biggest impact on me both professionally and personally. Not only are the Timorese compromised by a lack of education and poor living standards, but they are also exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases, leprosy and various other conditions daily. Although the clinic visits were observational, the opportunity extended my learning, as this is where I realised the importance and value of the education we had provided.

This journey was a transformative experience, as prior to my immersion in the Timorese culture I was ignorant of both their local and national issues. The knowledge I had gained in my undergraduate program could be shared; I could work with others to bring access to opportunities we take for granted in my developed world. I wanted to explore more, learn more and do more in other developing countries.

My journey of learning next took me to the bustling province of Battambang, on the north-west side of Cambodia. It boasts a population of 1,040,000. The objective was for Australian Catholic University students to contribute to building the health capacity of the Battambang community. Due to the experience I gained in Timor-Leste, I was given the opportunity to be a student leader on this clinical placement for nursing and paramedic students. This developed my organisational and leadership skills.

Prior to our departure, I was busy fundraising, and acting as a liaison with academic staff, the country manager in Cambodia and the Challenges Abroad team.

The students selected for this trip were from ACU’s various campuses, so it was important for me to get to know them through social media and video-conferencing prior to departure. I created a Facebook closed group to break the ice, to promote a team spirit, and as a vehicle for the students to stay connected and develop cohesion. Additionally, the purpose of this page was to record their thoughts and impressions, fears and expectations about their experience.

Comparing the student interaction in Timor-Leste and Cambodia impressed upon me the mechanics of group dynamics and its role in achieving a team objective. My brief in Timor-Leste was to participate in activities my facilitators set, whereas in Cambodia I had a lot more responsibility where challenges informed my decision-making. My leadership role gave me the chance to use my initiative and recognise opportunities that would benefit the community of Cambodia, extend the impact of our visit and expand and contribute to the learning of our students. Furthermore, this initiated opportunity for the next group of students on subsequent visits to Cambodia.

My leadership skills were honed on clinical placement. I was focused on ensuring the students were working effectively as a team, were cognisant of cultural etiquette and were able to meet their learning objectives by remaining on task. Additionally, my duties involved being a liaison with doctors and nurses through interpreters. I noticed local nursing practices were vastly different to Australian standards. This difference sparked debate amongst the students about ethical practices in Battambang and proved a personal challenge for them.

Following my community engagement placement in Timor-Leste, it was natural to draw comparisons between the two developing worlds. In Cambodia, I noticed kerb and guttering in some areas, resorts, restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, westernised cafes, a viable tourism industry, expat hospitals and numerous clinics. This surprised me because in Baucau, Timor-Leste, there was little evidence of westernisation and development or tourism. Also, the Cambodian clinics had qualified health professionals with a higher level of competency and medical know-how than the Timorese.

Both journeys affected me professionally and personally – experiences for which I am grateful. The people I have met on these journeys have influenced my world view and reinforced my desire to continue studying, to become a leader in my field and ultimately to benefit others.

I am an active ambassador for studying abroad and highly recommend short-term overseas placement to aid personal growth and professional development.

Justine Roberts is studying a bachelor of nursing practice leadership at the Australian Catholic University North Sydney Campus.

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