If there was a common thread running through the ISIS team’s experience in Battambang it would be gratitude.
We were thankful to be there, to have been chosen to represent ISIS in making a difference to those less fortunate.
We were thankful for our own childhood experiences, in stark contrast to what we were witness to.
We were thankful for how enthusiastic the community was – shovelling, painting, donating their time, their resources, not least the cement mixer!
Even down to the little things – we were thankful for a cool drink in the high temperatures with humidity like a sauna; for a cool shower after working; for a nourishing meal presented by the community at lunch; for a quick kip on cement floors to refresh ourselves for the afternoon’s work.
And even smaller things – toothpaste and soap.
On our last day in Battambang we took part in SeeBeyondBorders’ health program, teaching children how to brush their teeth and wash their hands properly – and importantly when and how often they should be done.
Many of the children had never brushed their teeth before, so much care had to be taken for them to brush very softly to prevent bleeding gums.
Hand washing was a collaborative effort with children ladling fresh water on to their partner’s hands, and holding the soap in a stocking for them to work up a sufficient lather.
Every child left the program with a new toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and soap dish to ensure safe hygiene practice can continue at home.
The importance of this work cannot be understated – children cannot regularly attend school if they are continually sick. An alarming number of Cambodian children die of diarrhoea – it’s one of the leading causes of infant mortality – and chronic oral disease has long term health implications.
Every child who participates in the program has their date of birth, height and weight recorded. The data isn’t perfect – many of the children don’t know their actual date of birth – but provides an important benchmark for measuring effectiveness of programs long-term into the future. The data collected was at times difficult to process for the Australian team. We were presented with children who were consistently significantly shorter and lighter than their Australian counterparts. This may not be just an indication of malnutrition at the time of recording, but is likely to be due to malnutrition in their infant years. According to UNICEF, Cambodia has a stunting rate of at least 40 percent.
We returned to Prek Norin school to complete some last minute works prior to the Community Meeting. All the key representatives from the community were present and thanked SeeBeyondBorders and the Australian team for their contribution. We were presented with ceremonial scarves – a lovely gesture which demonstrated how valued our work was. Our final moments at Prek Norin were spent playing with the children – a perfect ending as they were the focus all along.
Our final night in Battambang we celebrated at Jaan Bai with the SeeBeyondBorders team. We reflected on what we had experienced, celebrated our achievements, and were presented with our very special SeeBeyondBorders scarfs.
While it was a night of celebration, it was also a time of reflection. Gratitude not only for the privilege we have been born in to, but that we have been given the opportunity to do something with it.
Gratitude that we can be instruments of change.