Cambodia has a lot of cats. They’re in shops, in the market, on rooftops, and spilling on to the streets. They are a part of the landscape. And with lots of cats come lots of kittens. Many of the cats of Cambodia also have a distinctive shortened tail. As an animal lover I had to stop myself from patting them – I didn’t want a trip to hospital for rabies!
At first we thought that they may have been lopped off and eaten(!), but then were told that this was simply a deformity the cats in Cambodia have. I have since been told that in neighbouring Thailand owners break their cat’s tails as a way to communicate that they are owned. I guess we’ll never know the truth!
We arrived at Prek Norin eager to continue on the progress we had made the day prior. Our aim was to patch the floor in a classroom where the concrete had cracked, repair some outdoor steps, and begin to apply the undercoat to the steel bars in the painted classroom.
The painting team set off to paint the steel bars. This was fiddly and incredibly time-consuming – the brushes crude, using drink bottles to hold the paint, struggling to get the mix right with paint thinner. We didn’t have painter’s tape, so it was almost futile trying to prevent the dark red undercoat from hitting our clean white walls we had spent so much time painting the day prior – although the boys were noticeably more ‘slap dash’ than the girls! As the morning marched on, the sun rose higher and was beating directly on to us – we were sweating bullets and squinting to see what we were doing!
Concreting was even more challenging. A discussion arose between the Khmer team and the Australian team as to how the concreting should be done. The Australian team, with their Australian building standards in mind, believed that the mix was too light on concrete, wasn’t being poured thick enough, and required reinforcing. With budget and availability of materials a concern for the Khmer people for such a long period of time, these Australian ‘requirements’ were deemed unnecessary. The Australian team said 10cm, they said 5cm, so we made a compromise of 7.5cm. The boys soldiered on whilst feeling the blow, and focused on what we had achieved in only a day and a half.
This was just one of many times we were struck with how different life in Australia is to here. At ISIS, safety is our number one priority – ensuring our people go home in as good if not better condition than when they came to work is at the centre of what we do. Here in Cambodia, safety standards in everything is different to home – from how to ride a moto, to how to “prop up” a scaffold.
Safe to say that ISIS staff did not use the scaffold!
After another beautiful feast prepared by the community, we continued our work. We managed to complete the concrete patching, fixed the crumbling stairs, installed flagstones at the base of the stairs, completed the undercoat to the windows of one room, and nearly completed the undercoat to the second room. Progress had been achieved.
Before we head back to town for a much-needed shower, we were run through the sports program and hygiene program which we would be leading over the next two days. Cambodian children generally don’t have access to sport, don’t have the opportunity to develop gross motor skills, and therefore don’t achieve developmental outcomes at the same rate as other children internationally. The SeeBeyondBorders sports program aims to provide an opportunity for disadvantaged children to access this learning, whilst also providing some much-needed fun – a fantastic incentive to get children to attend school regularly.
We were set on our paces learning each of the stations – running zigzag through cones, balancing on a beam, jumping small hurdles with both feet – a challenge in thongs! The bean bag station is used to develop balance and hand eye coordination by balancing on the head, on the knee, or throwing between two people. Ball skills are also developed in kicking a soccer ball between two students.
The SeeBeyondBorders hygiene program aims to educate children about how to effectively wash their hands and brush their teeth, including why and when we need to. Each child who participates is given a bar of soap, toothbrush and small toothpaste to ensure that they can continue this practice at home.
A really lovely moment was had between the boys and the school children. After a “one, two… THREE!” the boys kicked the ball high into the air, much to the delight of the children who let our squeals of excitement as they all chased after it. One particularly enthusiastic child immediately disrobed to retrieve the ball from the pond after a very enthusiastic kick. It was wonderful to see the children so excited, energetic, enthusiastic, and happy just to be playing with us and a ball.
After packing up the van, we had a quick clean up and then made out way to Jaan Bai, by far the best restaurant in Battambang, and a social enterprise of the Cambodian Children’s Trust. Meaning “rice bowl”, Jaan Bai is led by Australian chef David Thompson and John Fink of Quay and Otto Ristorante, and aims to train underprivileged youth in the hospitality sector. The banquet was a showcase of modern Khmer fusion cuisine, the ingredients just-been-picked fresh, and the service professional attentive. Every dish was beautifully presented and expertly crafted – the mushroom dumplings, betel leaf amuse bouche, and papaya salad were standouts – but to be fair, it was all delicious. The cocktail menu is a feast in itself, and even includes a lovely story about the crocodile tail cocktail – which you simply MUST try if you love Asian flavours.