Having trained as a health healer after finding that a simple herbal remedy was able to cure her own serious disease, Pho now passes on her knowledge of nutrition and basic health care to her village in order to help them learn to grow vegetables themselves, improve their diet and recognise and treat basic health problems.
Here is a summary of the teaching which health healers such as Pho are able to pass on to their communities:
The women are shown vegetables available and encouraged to plan them into their diet. The group are taught the individual advantages of all the different vegetables to their and their family’s nutrition and health.
Women in particular are encouraged to ensure they feed themselves properly, since Cambodia is a very patriarchal society and women always give themselves the smallest portion of food, giving most of the food to their husbands and children, which can cause them to suffer.
Women’s Health Support
Women healers were trained to offer basic health advice and support. They are provided with a women’s health kit including: a stethoscope, a speculum, a mirror, water filter, a mat and curtain for examinations, basic first aid and cleaning solutions.
The healers are taught to look out for symptoms of ill health or lack of nutrition, eg. checking their nails, eyes, skin and teeth, taking their blood pressure or using a speculum to check for vaginal infections.
The healers encourage women to visit them in the women’s health rooms, often held in their homes, to go with any health issues or conditions. Children and men are also welcome.
In the case of serious conditions the healer will pay for their transport to the hospital with their monthly emergency referral budget, often accompanying them.
Traditional herbal remedies can help to treat many conditions faced by the women, such as high blood pressure, vaginal infections, worms, prolapse and menstruation problems. The herbs used are common place and therefore free for the women to access unlike the drugs prescribed at health centres. Papaya seeds (for worms), mango buds (for prolapse), neem leaves (for vaginal infections) and lemon juice (for high blood pressure) are just a few of the herbs used for treatment.
The women’s health healer training promotes women’s rights encouraging women to regain control over their bodies and lives. Cambodia is a patriarchal society, with men’s position above women entrenched in cultural practices. Domestic violence is very common and is viewed as ‘education’. Female roles in the home are entrenched with most responsible for the children, all housework, cooking, collecting water and harvesting.
The healers encourage the women to look after their health by dividing their food equally rather than giving most of it to their husbands, as they also work very hard. They highlight that if they do not look after themselves they put their health at risk, particularly if they are pregnant and that they should talk and plan with their husbands about health.
The healers also encourage the women to challenge domestic violence, by explaining to their husbands the damage they are doing to their health. They ask them to encourage their husbands to stop drinking alcohol and gambling as this will reduce violence. It is stressed that change takes time, but they should keep trying.