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Bomnong L'or Week 3 - Fabric Maze

Our third week in Cambodia started on a high, with the whole team back on site again after a rocky week of illness and injury. Morale was boosted even more by a new start to each day instituted by our site manager Woody- a stretch and aerobics warm up to the cheesiest 80’s pop music he could find. The wild flailing and dancing certainly helps everyone wake up a bit more for the 6.30am start on site.

Something else which really helped boost productivity and morale on site amongst the local workers was the introduction of a ‘worker of the week’ bonus for one of the men and women. We had faced some difficult discussions with some of the workforce earlier in the project over the fact that we paid men and women equally on site, and we wanted to make it clear that we valued enthusiasm, work ethic and initiative more than being able to carry the heaviest things. This week Polly and Bun Heng were given the honour, having really stepped up to the challenge and not only worked exceptionally hard, but also kept everyone cheerful and laughing at the most frustrating moments. To celebrate, we finished Saturday with some beers on site and an early finish.

The biggest task on site this week has been to continue preparing the falsework and reinforcement frame, ready for the next concrete pour. Site has become more and more of a maze, with a complex network of frames, scaffolding, and supporting posts making it difficult to navigate quickly around the place. As the framework is now getting higher and more people are working up on the scaffolding, bright blue hard hats are now mandatory for everyone, making even simple tasks a lot more sweaty in the Cambodian heat!

We ended the week by fitting the first of the fabric columns, which are made from tightly clamped geotextile and supported by the falsework structure. These are essentially large bags which we will pour the concrete into, and once the concrete has hardened we will be able to peel it away to reveal (hopefully!) beautiful round columns imprinted with the fabric texture. The beams follow a similar principal and will have a curved profile created from the hanging fabric. We successfully made a short section of a beam in order to test out the best clamping technique and find out how much falsework is needed to support the weight of the concrete. The test was a useful illustration for the whole team to demonstrate how the fabric would work, and also settled our own nerves about using such a new and innovative technology.

Alongside all the progress on site we’ve also been out and about around Sihanoukville, building relationships with local trades and skilled workers so that we can get some larger components of the build fabricated in local workshops rather than on our cramped site. Our first roof truss is currently being welded in a nearby workshop and if all goes well we’ll be getting a further 26 made in the next couple of weeks, ready to be carried to site and mounted.

Work has also begun on our renovation of the existing soap production room, with the old roof being ripped off and new window and door openings cut out of the existing masonry walls. With so much going on across site, we spent one lunchtime explaining the design to our local team in more detail. The centre's teaching staff had already been involved throughout the design process alongside the students, both young and old, however, our construction team had only seen detailed drawings for the first few weeks' work. We started by showing our Empowerment Film to explain our approach to projects followed by a drawings session and walk round site.

 

Heavy rain has frustratingly held back our progress at times- when the heavens open the rain can be so heavy that it’s almost impossible to see or hear anything, so work grinds to a halt until the storm passes. The rains have also twisted and warped some of the timber falsework so we’ve had to invest a lot of extra time and effort bracing and straightening everything. We are now just a couple of days work away from being able to pour all of the concrete up to first floor level, so hopefully in a week we will have a fully cast structure completed.

 

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