This week we are delighted to have been joined by a project team from SHAPE Australia. They have been working tirelessly alongside our staff and the community in a number of schools to support the implementation of our programs. In this blog they explain their own experiences and explore some of the complex issues they’ve faced while working alongside our team here in Cambodia.
“Our first day began with an early start for a bike ride around the outskirts of Phnom Penh. First stop was a silk factory and some local snacks then on to see the sights and sounds of the quaint countryside.
The next day put us into a more sombre mood with a trip out to the killing fields, an area most synonymous with the devastating regime of Pol Pot. This was a highly sobering moment for us all and we have now become a conduit of the atrocities that happened during the late 70s in Cambodia while the world turned a blind eye. We have come to realise the important part we all must play to ensure history is never repeated.
After our time in Phonm Penh we travelled directly to Battambang, our main residence of the trip to help with the SeeBeyondBorders team and their Better Facilities program (part of their Better Schools focus area).
We were excited for work to begin and another early start led to mixing concrete at 7am. Our task was to help restore an area to be used for the students’ sports lessons and, given that this particular day was a public holiday in Cambodia, we were greeted with a huge number of supporters from the community. Great team work ensued, despite the language and construction knowledge barriers, and happily for all involved we completed at lunch. We were then treated to a community cooked local smorgasbord of rice, curry and vegetables. We felt proud to have ensured the sports area was now a more suitable environment for both play and learning.
With the extra time off we headed back into town for some much needed rest until it was time for our daily reflection in the afternoon about the days’ work and lessons learnt.
The next day our alarms woke our peaceful sleep at 6am and after a little struggle, we managed to roll out of the comfort of our air conditioned rooms to another school under the SBB program. The mood was jubilant with little knowledge of what waited for us in the 4 classroom building at the school. Two of these four classrooms along with a full strip of corridor and some steps needed a complete overhaul of re-concreting.
All I can say is thank god for the diesel powered cement mixer waiting for us at the work area! Concrete conga lines were formed passing bucket after bucket into the respective classrooms. Other jobs included keeping the mixer supplied with materials such as sand, cement and aggregate and scooping the concrete out from the tub to pass to the line.
Once the rooms were fully concreted including a section of the corridor and steps it was 3pm and we were ushered to the third class room to inspect the repairs we were to complete. This is where the construction experts in some of the group’s members clashed with the “Cambodian way” regarding the levels of the prep work ready for the new concrete. After tensions were cooled and we were by the pool in a more relaxed frame of mind a reflection session was had. This lead to a very deep and informative conversation later that night with Ed (founder and CEO of SBB) which put certain moments of the afternoon in perspective along with some tools to tackle these issues the next day.
With a fresh outlook and a good night sleep we arrived at the same school the following day. The work required included some minor repairs to a cracked slab in the fourth and last classroom while some others engaged in art projects with some of the students. We left that afternoon with a renewed sense of hope for the future longevity of our work and the possibility of some of our expertise being passed onto the local community.
After that mornings work and our previous night’s reflection we realised that this is one of the most important parts of our involvement here; to experience the local conditions, engage with the community and appreciate the myriad layers of challenges not just that SBB face but the locals as well.
Tomorrow we begin our non-construction related activities which include Heath and Sport which will hopefully give our backs a break!”