LOCAL doctor from Canning St Surgery Patty Salisbury is preparing herself to spend 12 months working at the Maela Refugee Camp in Thailand.
The camp is located along the river that is the border between Thailand and Burma and houses 50,000 United Nations certified refugees.
“I always wanted to do humanitarian work,” Dr Salisbury said.
“The reason that I went to medical school was to work in developing countries, to help people who need it the most.”
The refugees are mainly from the indigenous Burmese tribes of Karen and Mon which have been persecuted by the Burmese Government.
There are another 50,000 displaced persons who live along the river in the border town who are not UN certified refugees.
Dr Salisbury will be residing at the nearby town Mae Sot, which is 6 hours from Chang Mai.
She will be working in a hospital within the camp for the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU), working with midwives, taking care of women who have complicated pregnancies due to malaria, looking after babies and training students there in minor operations.
She has visited the camp twice previously to work in the hospital, spending two and three weeks there, and has wanted to go back ever since.
“The main sentiment that I came away with was feeling completely and utterly humble,” she said.
“The refugees work so hard to live their lives.”
Most of the midwives and medics in the camp are refugees who have been trained by visiting organisations.
She recalls a time during a previous visit when the student midwives were doing the final exam for their course in the hospital, and gunfire started across the river on the other side of the border.
There is schooling until Year 10 available for the refugees, and if they are interested in learning more about health there is a system that involves didactic teaching and becoming apprentices.
Dr Salisbury said that the midwives are very highly trained, up to the level of an obstetrician in Australia.
Training is beneficial to the refugees as being highly trained increases their chances of being accepted into another country.
There are families of refugees who have lived in the camp for generations, as so few are accepted into other countries.
Dr Salisbury recalls in one of the previous years she was at the camp, there was a lot of excitement because Australia had accepted five refugees, more than it had accepted before.
Ms Salisbury has lived in the Bega Valley for 13 years, after doing her medical training in the US and immigrating to the Valley in 2001.
Her children are very supportive of her decision to go to the camp.
“They say, good on you Mum,” Dr Salisbury said.
“They are really proud of me.”
Her husband will be spending some of the year living with her in Mae Sot, and her children will hopefully visit her there.
Dr Salisbury leaves in July, and will be returning to Canning St Surgery when she comes back to Australia.
A female replacement doctor will be working at the surgery while she is away.