When I visit struggling countries, such as Cambodia, I like to look for ways to give back. Small gestures, like donating blood, are ways I can help make a difference in the lives of those who need it.
Did you know that one unit of blood can save up to three lives?
Or that cancer patients may need up to eight donors in one week? This part hits home for me, because my mom was one of them. Based on this alone, it should go without saying, I am a strong advocate for donating blood.
Typically, there are numerous volunteer opportunities available in every country. The problem, for me anyway, is that usually, you must be able to commit to at least a couple weeks. While I understand this is to minimize turnover and provide stability, I am naturally a fast traveller, and have never stayed in one place longer than a week.
This means that I do not qualify for most of these volunteer opportunities, so if I want to give back, I need to get a bit more creative. When researching opportunities in Cambodia, I learned that the availability of healthy and safe blood continues to be a big challenge throughout the country.
Blood donation in Cambodia is definitely on the rise, and that’s great news. But, even with this increase, in 2017, the country still only reached about 35% of it’s annual goal amount. This puts the nation’s population at risk, and the country’s need for donations remains critical.
That’s where you and I, as visitors to this wonderful country, come in.
Most tourists visiting Siem Reap will make a beeline straight for Angkor Wat, and spend a few days exploring the impressive temples. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely did my share of exploring as well, and it was certainly incredible.
But I also made it a point to visit Angkor Children’s Hospital to donate blood. It was just as, if not more, memorable than the days I spent exploring the amazing temples within Angkor.
The hospital is located downtown, so it’s easy to get to. When I arrive, I am escorted to the lab, and met by a friendly nurse who speaks perfect English and immediately puts me at ease.
She tells me that many North Americans are type A, and many Cambodians are not, so if I am type A, I cannot donate, as they currently have a surplus.
(I should point out, this was only their supply status at the time I was there. This does not necessarily reflect their current availability. Even if you are type A, I highly recommend you still go and ask if you can donate, they may now need your type.)
I have no idea what my type is, because I have never donated blood before. Not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t meet the minimum weight requirements in North America.
In North America, 450mL of blood is taken, versus 350mL in Cambodia, so minimum weight requirements in North America are higher. To donate in Cambodia (and I believe most of Asia, but don’t quote me on this), the requirements are:
- Between the ages of 18-60 years old;
- Weigh more than 45kg; and
- Have not donated in the last 3 months for men, or 4 months for women.
Luckily, the nurse doesn’t weigh me. Instead, she takes a small sample of blood to check my blood type and hemoglobin levels (hemoglobin is the molecule in your blood that moves oxygen and carbon dioxide). She also checks my heart rate and blood pressure. In a few minutes, the results are in.
I am O+.
I think I’m more excited about this than she is, and I basically run into the room and hop up on the table before she gets the full sentence out. She ensures I am comfortable, and gets me set up.
I lay there and watch my blood leave my body, knowing that what may seem like such a small gesture to me, can mean the difference between life and death to someone else.
The entire process is a breeze. A short while later, my unit of blood is labelled and shipped off. I stay and relax for a few minutes afterwards, and the nurse gives me crackers, a can of Coke, and a hospital t-shirt.
This is a normal part of donating blood, because the staff wants to monitor you for any side effects such as dizziness, light-headedness, or low blood sugar.
I know what many of you are thinking, and if I’m honest, I initially thought the same thing. That because Cambodia is a lesser developed country, this is a risky procedure, and terrible things will happen. I assure you, this is not the case. At all. I did my research, so I knew what to expect.
Now that I’ve donated, I can vouch for the safety of the entire procedure.
Everything is up to North American standards. You have nothing at all to worry about. Saying it is a positive experience, is almost an understatement. I would not hesitate to do this again.
No matter where you are in the world, I encourage you to donate blood.
Donations save lives.
Now tell me, have you donated blood before? How was your experience?
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