A Green Gecko Article By Rotarian Keith Kimpton
The Green Gecko project was initiated by Tania Palmer.
Trudy Poole became aware of the project at an early stage and was concurrently a member of the Rotary Club of Frankston. Trudy introduced Tania to our club, where she has been at various times a guest speaker, a guest, and a Paul Harris fellowship recipient. Neil Blacks' daughter, Holly, has been, along with Trudy, a great supporter of Green Gecko.
Many club members have visited Siem Reap and helped out at Gecko.
Trudy has, for a long time, provided dental health education to the Gecko kids. Trudy's' background is that she was a dental therapist then joining her husbands transport business. Trudy and Tania decided that they could expand to a "Wellness Centre" and provide dental and allied health services to their own kids and to others from other N.G.Os in the Siem Reap area.
They purchased land and moved an existing building to the site. Trudy purchased a collection of second hand dental equipment in Phnom Penh and (with Russell) installed it at the new premises, then know as "Purple Mango".
Trudy invited me to join her in Siem Reap to inaugurate the clinic. We spent a couple of days sorting out the various instruments and donated materials, establishing protocols and turning the collection of bits and pieces into a functional surgery. Trudy and I spent the next 10 days or so treating a variety of young people from Green Gecko and two other N.G.O's in the Siem Reap area.
I made the observation that kids who had been part of Trudy’s dental health education at Green Gecko, largely oral hygiene and good diet, had significantly better oral health than kids from another N.G.O. Both groups had come from similar deprived socio-economic backgrounds but Gecko had provided residential care and Trudy’s program whereas the other group did not provide residential care and therefore had no control of diet.
I was able to introduce the concept of pit and fissure sealing. Putting a covering "glaze" over the fine fissures on the biting surfaces of molar teeth. This all but eliminates the most common place for dental decay to begin and quickly and cheaply reduces the incidence of decay.
Quite possibly the most valuable aspect for me is the story of Sokun Eang. Sokun has grown up in the Gecko family. She was "rescued" from her parents at about 11 years of age and came to Gecko and started to go to school. At 20 she was doing year 12 and was invited/asked to act as my dental nurse each morning that I was there, and to attend school in the afternoons. (Cambodia has 2 cohorts of students, one morning shift and one afternoon shift). Within the space of a few days, Sokun became a competent nurse and was also able to undertake the various "back room" aspects of dentistry such as equipment maintenance and autoclaving (sterilising). Unbeknown to me she had harboured a desire to train as a doctor but had, during the two weeks we were together, changed her mind and decided to study dentistry. She completed her year 12 studies successfully and did so well in a national university entrance exam that she was able to gain entrance to Puthisastra private university in Phnom Penh.
This university offers what I understand to be the best dental education in Cambodia. The Dean of Dentistry is Callum Durward who is an Australian and also Adjunct Professor at James Cook University in Queensland, i.e. a reliable course and good quality graduates. Sokun, having started the dental course last year, submitted an application for a scholarship. It apparently was essentially a autobiographical account of her start in life as a "street kid" and her time with Green Gecko along with her hopes and aspirations for her future. Along with representations from Trudy, Green Gecko and myself, it culminated in her being awarded a full scholarship for all her university fees for all 7 years of the course. This allowed for my offer to donate the funds needed for the university fees to be diverted to cover all her accommodation and living expenses whilst she studies in Phnom Penh.
Sokun has very successfully completed the first year of her course and is currently part way through second year. She nursed with me again in September this year when Margot and I spent a little time working at Purple Mange in Siem Reap. We also visited Callum Durward at Puthisastra University to help demonstrate our support for Sokun. This was during the end of year university holidays so as well as nursing with me Sokun undertook the leadership of a community dental health education program in Siem Reap with Trudy and a group of dentists and dental students from Hong Kong. She is displaying a skill in leadership and a willingness to give back to her community. It's my guess that she will, as a dentist, be a wonderful asset to the people of Cambodia.
It is remarkable that a young lady who was in danger of being sold into prostitution by her family will graduate as a professional who will help to ease a considerable amount of pain and suffering. The values that have been instilled at Green Gecko will guide her to make her more than just a dentist. I am confident she will use her skills to "give back" in every way she can.
What a magnificent legacy. I suspect that it is one of many lives that have been turned around by Tania Palmer with the magnificent help of Trudy Poole.