Alex from the SHAPE Australia here describes the second part of their project team week, comprising of health workshops and a sports carnival in some of the schools supported by the work of SeeBeyondBorders.
“After an afternoon of making 180 ‘soap-on-a-ropes’ and with the concreting work over we were all greatly looking forward to our fourth day’s program involving health education at another school in the SBB supported district. On today’s agenda was working with the community to educate the students on washing hands and cleaning teeth. We saw this as a pivotal part of a holistic approach to education in general, along with the maths and English programs, as these are important life skills that will improve their future and reduce the burden on the local health systems.
All children at the school were incredibly well behaved and enjoyed every moment of watching us do the demonstrations, and then doing it themselves. What alarmed us so much was before we began the teeth brushing demonstration we asked a few questions such as; why we brush our teeth, how many times we should brush them and if their teeth hurt. They all knew that they needed to brush 2 to 3 times a day but at the same time a large percentage said that their teeth hurt as obviously they didn’t have the resources such as brushes and tooth paste. Looking around at some of the older community members, many with missing teeth, we were determined to end this cycle and saw this as an important part of the SBB program.
With an early finish we headed to a local restaurant and were treated to some delicious local dishes of fried chicken, rice and vegetables. After a quick snooze we were again headed to one of the best culinary experiences in Battambang; Jaan Bai. This restaurant was actually started by a well-known Sydney-sider who has a few popular eateries back home.
After a good night’s rest we were up and ready at the usual 6:30am to begin a day we were looking forward to from the start of the project; sports carnival. We headed out to another new school which included years 1, 2 and 3. We arrived to a very excited group of about 90 students all dressed in the uniforms of their favourite soccer team and a handful of community members keen to help.
There were three different activities, hurdles, running and a sack race and we were divided into 3 different teams. It was invigorating and inspiring to see the huge smiles on the students’ faces and the sportsmanship as they cheered on their schoolmates from the sidelines after their race.
The final race was a relay with all 90 students lined up in their group colours. First, second and third were awarded a game changing 30, 20 and 10 points. At the end of the replay all points were added up by the children and put up on a white board. With a loud roar of 30 kids the yellow team was awarded first place. Blue awarded second and red was given third. However, the real winner of the day was again education and the greater picture of community involvement, health and making coming to school appealing to all parties.
This saw the end of our program and our time in Battambang. We had some lunch in town and said out goodbyes to the local SBB team members such as Kea, Sophen and Reasmey. It was sad to say goodbye to these wonderful and inspiring Khmer locals who want to be a catalyst and part of the change in Cambodia to make it a better place for the current and future generations which SBB embodies.
Out next destination was a bit of R&R in Siem Reap, a very popular tourist destination and the home of the UNESCO listed and ancient wonder of the world; Angkor Wat. In contrast to Battambang we were greeted to a town of restaurants, pubs, clubs, 5 star hotels and plenty of backpackers. A night out in ‘Pub Street’ turned out to be a temptation despite the early wake up of 5am to cycle to see sunrise at Angkor Wat.
As the alarm went off at 4:30am we put on our new SBB bike shirts and rode in the dark towards the temples. Despite losing a few people from a flat tyre along the way (we were saved by a tuk tuk!) we made it to Angkor Wat just in time to see the magical sunrise over the massive stone structure and man-made moat surrounding the temple.
After a quick coffee we headed off into the jungle on the back routes to explore the other temples. Some found it hard to keep up with the very fit Ed (CEO and Founder of SBB) but we all made it together at the temples in the end. One of the first temples visited was the one made famous is Tomb Raider with large stone pillars and walls being wrapped by serpentine roots of trees giving a surreal feeling and wonderment of what this place would have looked like in its peak.
A few more kilometres were cycled and more temples were explored. It was great to get off the beaten track and see more of the local surrounds.
A very sore group of us made it back to the hotel in the afternoon and after a much needed siesta we headed out for our last dinner in Cambodia. An amazing local feed was had along with a trip to the night market to bargain some souvenirs for ourselves and loved ones.
The next morning saw another emotional goodbye to Ed, Kate and Sarah as we hopped on the bus to the airport for our flight to Singapore then Sydney.
I believe all members of the group will come away from this trip with a new appreciation of how lucky we are including a larger sense of humanity and a greater understanding of the issues people face in developing nations such as Cambodia. We also developed the up most respect and admiration for the SBB team including the founders Ed and Kate who are relentless in their efforts for change and education. We were all left that without a single doubt our money we raised in our golf days were going to an excellent cause and look forward to continuing on our partnership including passing on the good word of SBB to any other parties we may deal with in the future.
Again, a massive thank you to Ed, Kate, Penny, Sarah, Christian, Kea, Sophen and Reasmey for an unforgettable trip. Another big thank you also goes out to the other SHAPE team members involved in golf days and the subcontractors who donated money to this wonderful cause.
We all wish the very best to the SBB team and the people of Cambodia being helped by this fantastic organisation.”
Words by Alex Pickering, SHAPE Australia project team