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Bomnong L'or Week 2 - Raining Buckets

Week two of the Bomnong L’or was supposed to start with a day of pouring the remaining concrete pads and slab for the foundations. However, the violent thunderstorm that began in the middle of the night persevered right on through for most of the day. This pushed us back a day with our pour schedule, but fortunately there was so much reinforcement bar to bend for the concrete frame that we managed to keep everyone busy in the temporary covered space we built the previous week.

When a much drier Tuesday came around, we had all hands on deck for the concrete pour. Working from 6am until 7pm over two days, we managed to get all the foundation work completed. The biggest challenge was getting all 38 tonnes of concrete for the foundations onto site. The community centre is accessed via a very narrow, dirt road with plenty of turns and a cacophany of informal electrical cables zig-zagging barely above head height. In short, even some of the smaller trucks cannot get close. This made mixing concrete on site very difficult since the materials couldn't reach us in any significant quantity, however, a much larger ready mix truck wasn't likely to solve our problems either. In the end, we arranged for a supply of readymix concrete to pitch up a few hundred metres away on the main road where we pumped its contents into hundreds of plastic buckets laid out in the back of a flatbed truck. From here, the buckets were easily delivered up to site where a human chain awaited to move the goods to the desired location.


(Jen and Ruth gear up for a heavy day pouring concrete)

The concrete system was a fantastic team effort and one that worked exceptionally well, however, it came at a cost, firstly with project leader James being rushed to hospital with a suspected slipped disc from the toll of the heavy lifting, followed shortly by one of our volunteers Alan also being taken to the hospital with what later transpired to be a tonsil infection. Fortunately both are now well and back on site, although James will sadly have to leave the manual labour to the rest of the team!

The rest of the week saw increasingly worsening weather and a number of stomach bugs, however, we managed to make good progress with setting the falsework for our concrete nonetheless. Falsework is a term used to describe the frame that supports formwork - in most cases across the world, formwork usually comes in the form of timber planks that are used to contain the concrete frame as it sets. In our attempts to reduce timber usage, we have instead chosen to cast our concrete frame in fabric, following consultation with our structural engineers Structuremode, who have rigorously tested the potential of geotextile fabric as an alternative formwork. This not only reduces timber usage, but also material quantities in general as the fabric can be easily reused multiple times. We would like to say a big thank you to both Structuremode for their expert advice in designing the system and Proserve, who have very generously donated the fabric for the project and given some key technical input.

Once the falsework was successfully set we continued our constant battle with the rains - during monsoon season in Sihanoukville it can rain extremely heavily with very little notice. At least once a day we found ourselves bailing out each of our 12 pad foundations, which had effectively become mini swimming pools. It was a huge relief to finally have the holes filled in, not only to put an end to the constant flooding, but also so that site became a usable, flat space again!

We conclude week two with the falsework in place and most of the team beginning to return to full strength - we can only hope week three is slightly less eventful!