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SUNY Plattsburgh Students Explore, Bring CPR to Southeast Asia

Expeditionary studies majors Garret Cooper and Matt Smith’s 750-mile canoe paddle along the Srepok and Mekong rivers in Vietnam and Cambodia has become more than their required senior expedition.

Between being attacked by fire ants and being arrested — twice — by Vietnamese police, the expeditionary studies majors have turned their trek into a floating lifesaving seminar.

Since December, they have taught CPR to ethnic minority and indigenous groups in villages along their route.

Prior Solo Boat Trip

For Cooper, this marks his return to Cambodia where he traversed solo down the Mekong in a native wooden boat.

“Along the way, I visited a few villages and believe the people will appreciate this kind of training,” he says in the introduction to the pair’s blog, “From the Spirit Forest to the Dragon’s Mouth.”

Cooper said he wanted to do more than just paddle along the route. That kindled the idea of the CPR classes. “The life of a fisherman is dangerous; there are some pretty serious entanglement issues with nets, and of course, there are no (personal flotation devices).”

Life-saving Training

The mission is an important one: Every day an average of 32 Vietnamese children and six Cambodian children drown because rescuers don’t know the basics of CPR.

“I don’t know if the training we can provide will ever save a life,” Cooper said. “But it might, and that is what we hope for.”

“Everywhere I have traveled, people think I am strange, but they usually just smile or say hello,” Cooper said. “But in Vietnam, they arrested us.”

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