This blog is written by long term volunteers Sam Coleman, Caroline Kelly and Robyn Winters. Sam and Caroline are both Physiotherapists and Robyn is a Nurse, all based at Cambridge University Hospitals. They will be spending 3-6 months in Yangon, Myanmar, as part of the Cambridge-Yangon Trauma Intervention Project.

Well, what a week!  We arrived on Sunday evening to the hustle and bustle of downtown Yangon. Weary from our travels and in much need of a meal, we made our way to a restaurant recommended by the previous LTVs which happened to be just around the corner from the hotel. This was a very good recommendation as we wandered home with full tummies and a great sense of adventure. 

Day 1 was all about exploring our new city. We walked for miles on end, finding the hospital, our apartment, buying Yangon SIM cards for our phones (remember to always check your phone is unlocked before working abroad to save yourself some hassle!), and further exploration of downtown Yangon. This city is incredible and a far cry from what we call home: poverty intermingled with wealth; street food stalls lining every street; many many smells (both good and bad); stray dogs and cats. We soon became aware of how different we seem – emphasised by the amount of inquisitive stares we got from people, even to the point of someone asking to have a photo with us. That evening we all came to realise what a culture shock we had immersed ourselves into, but felt eager for that to ease to the point at which we could call this place home.

The next day started with an early start as we headed to the hospital to meet with the Professor of physiotherapy. We were gathered at the front gates by some other members of the physiotherapy team who recognised our bright blue t-shirts as representation of CGHP and who kindly directed us to the physiotherapy department. While waiting to meet with Prof Khin, we had the opportunity to talk with some of the physios there, all of whom are part of the Physiotherapy Development Team (PDT). They all seemed very excited at the prospect of the partnership over the next 3 months. After a productive first meeting with Professor Khin, we were shown around the physiotherapy department. This included an electrotherapy room, with enormous TENS machines, heat lamps, ultrasound, pulse shortwave therapy and shock therapy. Most of these treatment methods are no longer used in practice in the UK, however the physiotherapists here said that lots of patients reported very positive effects. Next we headed to the gym which we were pleasantly surprised to see so well stocked. Again, there was lots of older equipment, some no longer used in UK practice, but also some pieces of newer equipment, all of which appeared to be in use. Next, the physios gave us a tour of the inpatient ward (male and female) and showed us the room that they had set up for us to use in our time here. Throughout the morning, it became very clear that the people we are working with are extremely generous, friendly and excited about the opportunities and experiences to come. 

Day 3 – jet-lag hit! None of us felt able to surface until after midday! Therefore, we decided to use the afternoon as a tourist day and headed over to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. It really was a sight to behold and we would recommend it to anyone visiting the region. We won’t talk too much about it as the photos do a lot of the talking for us!

Now then… The next day, the stomach bugs hit. We managed to phone our physio colleagues back in the UK to update them on our meeting and to think about the next steps from here. It was so good to hear familiar voices and gain reassurance and motivation from them to fill us with even more enthusiasm. Other than this and a relatively quick walk to the Yangon Book Store by Sam and Robyn we lost day 4 to our beds and our bathrooms. 

On Friday, Caroline was still struggling with sickness but Robyn and Sam managed to find the energy and confidence to leave the hotel. After an hour long taxi ride in the pouring rain (to cover a distance that would have taken around 15 minutes to walk) they made it to the hospital to meet with Robyn’s direct professor. We had been asked to meet at the Post Anaesthetic ICU, which, if left to our own devices, we would never have found. Yet again we were found hopelessly wandering through the mazes of courtyards of YGH by members of the physiotherapy team who directed us to ICU where the charge nurse was waiting to take us to our destination.  Back to back meetings with Professor Mu Mu Naing and members of the medical team from ICU left us excited and admittedly a little nervous about the ambitious plans for our time in Yangon. Next, we were escorted through the incredible grounds of the University of Medicine (1) to collect the keys for our apartment. This was a short, sweet, and very, very wet walk in torrential rain. Even in November it appears that umbrellas are key items of Yangon life. We quickly checked out the flat, had a speedy run to the local mall for cleaning supplies and then headed back to the hospital to join the physiotherapists for their weekly in-service training programme. This was an idea initially set up by previous members of CGHP so we were pleased to hear that it is still running successfully. Having been updated by other members of the CGHP team about the training sessions it was fascinating to see it in practice, and will continue to be so for the coming weeks. Sam felt that it raised lots of interesting questions to expand on in future sessions. 

This weekend was a four-day public holiday to celebrate the full moon and the end of the rainy season – so we were limited in what project work we could be involved in. We moved into our flat, which also involved multiple trips to the mall to buy mattresses, house supplies and food! We also learned a very important lesson about how to fill our water tank…we may have accidentally flooded our kitchen…(thank you Livi for saving us with this one! We started to explore our local area, including a visit to an incredible light display (part of the festival) at a large park called the People’s Park. In the evenings, we took advantage of the local mall WiFi to start thinking up more project ideas and plans for the rest of the week to use our time as effectively as possible. 

Next week, our medical colleagues arrive for a week of project work with their Yangon counterparts. We are very much looking forward to having them here and learning more about what is going on in the wider project!