Heroic Rats, Pregnant Cows, and Grass fit for a King: the latest from our Cambodia Partner Network Meeting

With topics like these, you could be forgiven for thinking the recent GDG network meeting in Phnom Penh was a zoological convention or veterinary college gathering. But no, rats and cows are just two of the latest tools making inroads towards building better lives for those in need in Cambodia.

Our mid-year Cambodia Partner Network meeting was recently attended by 51 participants from 25 in-country partners in Cambodia. GDG’s Australian Board Chairman David Pearson and Cambodia Manager Peta Thomas joined Cambodia Project Officer Makara Kin and Project Assistant Phealy Hut as hosts for the Phnom Penh event.

After introductions, Phealy organised the icebreaker game we called poison words. Everyone received a few candies and was challenged to start a conversation with someone from a different table, with the goal of having the other person say yes or no. The person who said one of those poison words gave up one piece of candy to their conversation partner, and the winner was the table group with the most candy. It was a lot of fun with raucous laughter quickly erupting across the room when poison words slipped from the tongue more easily than anticipated. One question that caught many people was ‘have you eaten’, the obvious response is either yes or no, followed by a reluctant relinquishing of candy to their opponent. Despite some fierce competition, the prize of a large box of chocolates was ultimately divided between two tables in a tie.

Back to serious business and two new partners introduced their projects to the group:

  • Paul McCarthy from APOPO HeroRats project J932N shared a technical overview of de-mining work in Cambodia. APOPO work in partnership with CMAC and have adopted a unique strategy using highly trained African pouched rats to search minefields and locate unexploded ordinances (UXOs). Paul told us that in Cambodia they’re still finding 300-400 UXOs every month, with a recent cache located near a school. Despite their excellent track record for locating UXOs, APOPO haven’t lost a single rat in the field!
  • Vicheth Chann (Jet) from Cows for Cambodia project J916N shared how cows are giving families in their community a renewed hope for the future. Using improved breeding and animal husbandry techniques, the J916N project lends a pregnant cow to a family who are responsible for it’s care until the calf is weaned. In return the family is rewarded with the calf – a valuable asset. Cows can be used for breeding and bulls can be used for working in the fields. Jet and the team including volunteers from Australia are also growing King grass as a highly nutritious animal feed, constructing houses for those most in need in the community and building connections through their rice runs.

Peta shared about some online training courses available through one of our Australian supporters, and encouraged partners to utilise online training as a tool for capacity development of in-country staff.

Makara shifted gears and asked partners whether they and their key team members have ownership of the project goals. He encouraged partners to promote the project goals with relevant staff, as shared goals will contribute towards focus and unity within a team. Celebrating successes will help everyone to stay focused on the goals and not get overwhelmed with the challenges of the day to day.  Ensuring the team has a shared purpose will encourage everyone towards the project goals in unity.

David required teamwork from participants when he gave each table a word search challenge related to the language of risk. That was an intro to the topic of risk management, and David asked participants to identify some risks in their organisations. He shared that after risks are identified, they must be assessed for the likelihood of the situation taking place and the consequences if it does. A plan should be put in place to address the problem, to minimise the risk of it happening, and to consider what must be done if it happens. Finally the plan must be implemented.  We learned that although we can’t prevent all risks because we can’t control everything in life, by following good risk management practices we can avoid some risks and minimise the impact if a setback occurs.

After absorbing the morning’s program, we moved upstairs for tea and coffee on the rooftop, and partners enjoyed the opportunity to converse much more freely now (without the restriction of poison words!).  Overall we enjoyed a high level of participation and engagement from all partners present. We appreciated positive feedback from many, and especially from the three new groups who had travelled the long journey from Siem Reap.