Midwife teaches others to save lives in Cambodia



CULTINE: Katy Maker, a Gundersen West Union midwife, volunteered for six months in Cambodia, helping and working with other midwives in a rural clinic. (L-r) Boteow (the translator), Katy Maker, three of the Cambodian midwives, and Tanya (a volunteer from Great Britain) take a break at the clinic during lunch. (Submitted photo)




Midwife teaches others to save lives in Cambodia

By Amber Hovey
Contributing Writer

Katy Maker, a West Union Gundersen Clinic midwife, spent six months in the developing country of Cambodia, working in rural health clinics to provide skills and information to current and student midwives, as well as delivering many babies and providing care for the village women. 

The Decorah native received an unpaid sabbatical from West Union Gundersen Clinic, toward which she expressed much gratitude.

“It’s a privilege to work and live in the United States,” said Maker. “I wanted to go to a place that had been through some trouble and was still recovering.”

Maker originally travelled to Uganda, but shortly after she chose to go to Cambodia because she felt she could do more and her skills would be best put to use.

Through an organization called Life Options Asia, Maker was able to volunteer her experience and knowledge while working next to Cambodian midwives and their students. 

“This side-by-side care and practice sharing promoted respect for the Cambodian midwives, who would be there when we were gone,” said Maker.

Midwives in Cambodia only make $40 to $60 a month, whereas many of the garment factory workers make $80 to $100 a month.

“It was awesome how the midwives were excited because someone from the developed world cared enough to come be there,” said Maker.

Unfortunately, many large nongovernmental organizations (NGO) have left Cambodia. 

“Most large NGOs have left because they were so tired of dealing with the corruption,” explained Maker.

“Driving around, you see these big fancy houses – that’s some corrupt official,” she added.

There is no well-functioning government, taxes are not collected, and most of the money that goes into the government is stolen.

“Corruption is really hard to watch,” said Maker.

Along with the corruption, the lack of water and the dire poverty are circumstances Maker described as “hard to wrap your head around.”

The people of Cambodia experience rain 10 weeks out of the year, so people store water all year long in large clay pots. Clean water and adequate water sources are scarce.

Being that natives don’t have the water resources, vegetables are imported from Korea.

Much of the Cambodian diet consists of imported vegetables, and low nutrient white rice that is grown within the country.

With such extreme poverty come many child deaths. According to www.womenshealthcambodia.org, “one in 8 babies dies before age 5, most of which could have been prevented.”

“The highest risk time is in the first six weeks,” said Maker.

“It’s emotional for us as the developed-world people because we know all the things they could have, but they don’t have,” she added.

Maker recalled one baby who died because the parents did not have $10-$15 needed to transport the baby to the free children’s hospital in the capital city of Phnom Penh. 

Although Maker and the other midwives paid for the transportation as well as food for the family, the baby did not survive because it was too late.

Although sad, life is that way for many natives. However, they are thankful to the midwives for trying.

“The most fulfilling part of volunteering abroad in Cambodia was the interaction I had with the midwives and student midwives there. They are generous women who are delivering babies and keeping women healthy against so many odds,” said the midwife of 22 years.

She will never forget the visits to remote village homes.

“Everybody was so excited that we came that if we went around to a village to do any type of visits on a mommy and baby, the whole village would show up,” smiled Maker.

“Because so many people showed up, you could do teaching, and people who didn’t have access to education had the chance to ask questions,” added the West Union midwife. 

After six months in Cambodia, Maker was happy to be back home in Decorah and to work in West Union.

“I am excited to be back in practice there,” she said.

Maker works all day on Mondays and Fridays and half days on Wednesdays. 



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