This week husband and wife nurses Laurel Houck and Harry Mundorff of Murrysville started their second medical mission trip to Cambodian orphanages. But unlike their first trip in 2011 -- a structured one with a large group -- the pair is traveling with just two other doctors and no set itinerary.
"My husband and I felt called to go there. We're stepping out on faith," Ms. Houck said.
The couple will be gone for two weeks.
Joining them are former Pittsburger Tim Jones, now an emergency physician in California, and Dale Hindmarsh, a psychiatrist from Oakmont.
After landing in Phnom Penh airport in the Cambodian Capitol -- after a 24-hour trip -- a van driver and translator took them to orphanages designated by "I Love Cambodia" and "New Hope Children's Home'' -- humanitarian groups that guide mission work in the Southeast Asian country.
The team is paying every cent of its own travel expenses, Ms. Houck said.
Unsure of the number of orphanages they will visit -- last time it was eight -- the group will venture into outlying villages to offer medical help.
At the orphanages, each generally housing about 30 children, the group will provide basic head to toe examinations. For some children this will be the first medical care ever received.
"Our generation doesn't really exist in the city. There are not enough educated people to provide the needed care," Ms. Houck, 63, noted.
She refers to the terror imposed by Communist leader Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979 when the country was sealed off from the outside world and the most educated citizens -- doctors, lawyers, teachers, police -- were executed.
"We were constantly looked at [during the last trip] because they had never seen old people because they were killed off," said Mr. Mundorff, 66, who is also a Vietnam War veteran.
To ease potential anxieties, the group's translator will explain the procedures to the children. The medical professionals will not be doing anything invasive, like immunizations, which require specific government permission. Conditions requiring further attention will be referred to medical personnel with New Hope and treated at another facility.
"It's all about networking," Ms. Houck said.
Taking only basic supplies, such as stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs and thermometers, the group will purchase necessary medications and supplies at pharmacies in the country once they are able to target needs. Ms. Houck anticipates purchasing a one- to two-year supply of vitamins and other medications to leave at the orphanages.
"If, for example, we see a lot of lice, we will take supplies to handle it and then show them what to do to treat it," she said, adding that the group will also educate local leaders about basic medical care.
During their first visit to Cambodia, Ms. Houck was impressed with the amount of love and care the children receive in the orphanages.
"The house parents take care of them, making sure they are in school and fed," she said. Diets consists of primarily rice, sometimes fried, and occasionally eggs.
"When a new child comes into the orphanage, you can see they are malnourished. They get them up to speed. They are awesome kids," Mr. Mundorff said.
For the most part, the children are healthy in the orphanages, where living conditions are rudimentary. In Phnom Penh, children's homes tend to be somewhat more modern than in the outlying provinces. Some bathroom facilities do not have running water, but instead contain a vat of clear water to pour into primitive toilets. One cup on a bathroom sink will hold two toothbrushes that are shared by everyone. Tooth decay, addressed by other mission groups, is common, Ms. Houck said.
Mostly open air buildings, some of the homes are dormitory style while others have individual rooms for two to four children. Ms. Houck said she will sleep on a mat with mosquito netting.
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Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: email@example.com.