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Winter 2013
 
 
I hope you have been enjoying the warm & nourishing foods that the colder weather commands. Working with clients these past few weeks I have been hearing of cravings for delicious soups, warming teas, spicy chai’s, and have been sharing recipes for casseroles, vegetable coconut curries, and heartier slow-cooked meals that support us at this cooler time of year. I have certainly found myself in the kitchen more often than usual creating the likes of these nourishing meals. 

I thought it was about time I shared with you (especially for those of you that have been asking!) some photos and stories from my recent time in Cambodia. I was delighted to be invited to do some voluntary health assessments and community health education in a local fishing community on the island of Koh Rong, on behalf of The Song Saa Foundation, an amazing organization committed to conservation and sustainability in the region. I urge you to take a look at what this foundation are achieving for the local people, via their Website or Facebook page. Please read below to share in my experiences. Without question, I will be back… next time with my family in tow! 

Secondly, within this newsletter I’d like to share some of the insights and messages shared by His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his recent Sydney talk: Ethical Mindfulness in every day life

You will also find a Marie Claire article I recently contributed to on hair health, as well as a Winter recipe inspired by the Cambodian cuisine.  

I hope you enjoy the read, and please share any thoughts or feedback with me if you feel to. After taking a moment out from my busy life with this recent trip, I was reminded as to enormous value in extending oneself, and making a contribution by being involved in things that are larger than ‘us’. Such experiences always help with perspective and priorities. I have made some efforts to simplify my life since my trip, and am still truly savoring the post-Cambodia appreciation of a life of plenty here. 


 
 
The above quote sums up adequately, how I ended up in beautiful Cambodia in May.


 
 
Earlier this year, I was contacted by two long-standing & dear clients who had moved to Cambodia some time ago. This beautiful couple had fallen in love with the Cambodian people and way of life, and had even adopted a magnificent little baby boy as their son. Armed with large hearts & a strong will to ‘make a difference’ in this world, they had set their roots down on an island, 25 kms off the coast of mainland Cambodia (in the Gulf of Thailand) to establish Cambodia’s first sustainable eco luxury resort, Song Saa private island. As the founders of this project, my clients and their team have been wholeheartedly committed to maintaining the natural assets that make their island location so unique – both the local community and the marine & island environment. Their project led to the development of the Song Saa Foundation. Inspired by a passion for Cambodia and a commitment to sustainable development, the Song Saa Foundation initiates and promotes projects that improve the wellbeing of communities and natural environments of the Koh Rong Archipelago. It was this foundation that I was lucky enough to be invited by, to be involved with some community health work in the remote fishing villages of Koh Rong Island. 

I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to escape the daily grind, at the same time as making a valuable contribution (with a spindle of adventure). And I'm incredibly fortunate to have great support around me at home, to make it happen, such that I could (with love) leave my children for 12 days, tears and all.

 
 

When I mentioned this project to Tanya Kweiz, Sharon & Daniel Baden from BioMedica Neutraceuticals, I was blown away by their enthusiasm to be involved, too. So after a bit of too-ing and fro-ing with Cambodian customs, into my luggage I packed 35+kg of donated BioMedica supplements & Phytocare goodness to share amongst the people of Koh Rong.


An incredibly generous effort, to which Daniel insisted that it was a reminder to him of what his company BioMedica Neutraceuticals true purpose is: health care with integrity. Amazing. 
 
 

I would love to give you some insight as to the remote island where I was doing the community work. The conditions on Koh Rong are unimaginable to most Australians: inescapable humidity, no electricity, no running water, tree-house and over-water style open living arrangements, and two recently built functioning toilets to serve hundreds of people. The village had no existing medical care, but was anticipating a trip from International Medical Relief later this year, hence part of my project was to work in with a GP and collate health information (whilst providing health care) to share with International Medical Relief. To reach the island was a four hour boat ride from mainland Cambodia, which means access to fruit, vegetables, medicines, and basic health care was remote to say the least.  I saw families of eleven people sharing one small fish (the size of a sardine) with rice for a meal. Yet these beautiful people had the biggest, most radiant smiles you have ever seen.
 
 
One of the first families I met during the village house visits, consisted of a beautiful mother who had recently lost her HIV+ husband to Tuberculosis. Of her 8 children, the youngest one was just 3 months old, and she had been advised against breastfeeding by the local authorities on the mainland, to prevent passing potential HIV+ onto her baby (there is no access to having blood tests). This precious little baby girl Rumi had been raised on a single tin of formula for the first three months of her life, where Mum's only access to water was boiled (brown) rain and tank water. Needless to say, when we arrived, the baby at three months of age, was less that 3kg and suffering from an acute gastroenteritis. The infant specific probiotics, electrolytes, and clean drinking water we were able to provide and were a godsend to the life of this precious baby girl. With the help of a translator, we were able to instruct the mother to give the baby three to four sachets of the Neocare daily with electrolytes, until the diarrhoea had stopped, and then to resume Formula with Neocare thereafter. It was very quick acting. To first-hand observe Neocare saving this little one's life was a special moment. We were also able to donate tins of formula. Breastfeeding for 2 years is otherwise the norm, and is most probably what keeps these children faring so well for the first couple of years of life.


 
 

I was also privileged enough to be on the island for a birth. A first time mother gave birth to a health baby boy, in her own home, with the help of a TBA (traditional birthing assistant). The birth was very no-fuss, and I was thrilled to be able to share with the mother 6 months of Natal Care and BioHeme (iron supplements). I also left in the TBA's clinic loads of nutritional supplementation and supplies with instructions for the future needs of the community.

 
 
To have an impact on a larger scale, I combined forces with a wonderful GP from the Phillipines posted to Koh Rong, to do some Paediatric Community Health Assessments with the 100+ local children, in the local school. We soon discovered that (according to WHO guidelines), more than 85% of the children were stunted or severely stunted. Both iron deficiency anaemia & vitamin A deficiency were incredibly prevalent, anaemias starting all the way back to gestational anaemias, hence the large majority of children are very small for age. Some of the 14 year olds we assessed were a mere 22kg. Some of the 5 year olds barely 11kg. PEM was also an issue. And they had the worst teeth I had ever seen. So it was a privilege to be able to supply the children with toothbrushes, and weekly (chewable) Vitamin A tablets to last them 6 or so months, and to dispense Iron, Vitamin C with bioflavonoids, and rice Protein powder with probiotics. The medicines were quite a novelty, and a huge hit. I was also asked to have some input into the School feeding program, offering suggestion and support as to what the children were fed for breakfast each morning at school. We were able to set up a program including more egg and dried fish that is otherwise usual, with the inclusion of Protein complete powder and an orange seasonal fruit into their morning Taro Bor Bor (Taro porridge)

 
 

With a longer term perspective I had also brought along educational materials for the children at the one island school: and with the help of a translator, I was able to deliver a few basic health workshops in the local school, covering topics such as food hygiene, healthy food, and how the community can support their health with the foods they have at hand. The Children's enthusiasm was such a joy, some photos are attached

So it goes without saying, that I would like to say an enormous Thank you to Daniel, Sharon, and the entire Biomedica & Phytocare team for being so generous with their donations of supplies to make my impact as far reaching as possible. Your generous donations were instrumental to my trip, and went a long long way and touched many families and people. I will be back next year for sure, and will bring my own children to experience some of the beauty in the Koh Rong community.

Also I’d like to extend a huge Thank you to the Song Saa Foundation for inviting me, and to Song Saa for hosting me. I had the most magical, humbling, and uplifting experience. 
 
 
If you, too, are wishing to contribute in a similar way, or feel a call to 'give back' a little, I can assure you that by getting involved in some volunteer international health work you will gain some renewed perspective on life. Besides the obvious good you can do, you might also find that spending time with people such as these, and having the opportunity to contribute to their livelihood will make your heart sing, as it did mine.

 
 


Something else that has warmed me to the core this winter, was having great seats at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 2013 Australian visit: Beyond Religion; The Benefits of Living Ethically. Enjoying the opportunity to be in His Holiness presence is a rare and wonderful one. His natural, simple, and spontaneous character shone throughout his conversations, and despite on occasion sounding a bit like Yoda from Star Wars (I say that lovingly!), he shared some beautiful messages and blessings. I’d like to share these with you. 

His Holiness offered reflection on how isolating “mechanised”, modern living can be, and reminded us of how important it is for us ‘social beings’ to foster a strong sense of community around us. Think helping a neighbor, making time to see friends, doing an anonymous good deed, visiting community markets / festivals / events & supporting local produce growers. 

He talked of nourishing through kindness, making an effort to make a meaningful contribution each day; and not getting too caught up in the ‘narrowness’ of pursuing personal interests only.  

His Holiness’s strong sense of Global Community, or “the one-ness of humanity” shone through, and he reminded us all that from our highest space there is no discrimination. He said “when we look from a distance it's just one big blue planet!” His compassion was enormous, conveying that “your happiness is my happiness, your suffering is my suffering”. 

With the world’s population growing to now over 7 billion people, he expressed frustration at the enormous gap between the wealthy and the poor.  He spoke with sadness in his heart about the critical state we had reached with our environment, saying that we’d reached a ‘carbon dioxide tipping point’ that was going to be hard to turn around. He challenged: “as our health and our environment are the basis for our future, what can we do to turn this ecological devastation around?”

His Holiness shared his thoughts that “grounding ethics in religion may no longer be adequate”, mentioning that religion alone cannot foster important values such as integrity and compassion. He called for a global system of secular ethics, and suggested implementing “all-encompassing” secular ethics in schools, incorporating the diverse set of values that people of various beliefs hold in common.

He left us thinking about the enormous positive impact of ethical behaviour on ourselves, our loved ones, fellow human beings, communities, our environment, surrounding countries and ultimately our shared global community.

He encouraged that “World peace must come from inner peace” and that world change had to start within each and every one of us. He said that ultimately, all individuals have possibility, opportunity, and responsibility to create and cultivate this inner peace. His talk was a great reminder to me to work daily towards cultivating my own peace of mind, and then to try to extend this to the people around me, my family into then the larger community. This he saw as the way forward towards National, International, and Global peace. 

The benefits of a life lived ethically resonated with me, as I hope they do to you. Cheers to that! 


 
 

Cambodian Cuisine
Amok is a National Culinary tradition in Cambodia, and essentially is a steamed curry cooked in banana leaves. This dish has a delicious scent and taste, which comes form the taste of a distinctive and complex spice paste: you will need a pestle and mortar for this recipe. 

 
 

Directions for paste
Combine all paste ingredients in a mortar and pestle (or food processor) and grind / blend to a thick paste. 

Directions for Fish Amok
Slice the fish thinly and set aside.

Slice the kaffir lime leaves and cayenne peppers thinly. Stir the paste into 1 cup of coconut milk. When it has dissolved, add the egg, fish sauce and sliced fish. Then add the remaining coconut milk and mix well. Make the banana leaf cups (substitute for baking paper or steam basket) see below for instructions, then put in the baby spinach and top with the fish mixture. You can also just steam the amok in a bowl.  Steam for 15-20 minutes, then put the coconut cream on top and the thinly sliced kaffir leaves and cayenne peppers. Steam further until the mixture is solid, but still moist. When ready, turn the amok over onto a plate and wipe away excess liquid

Making the banana leaf cup
Clean the leaves with a wet cloth, then dip them into boiling water so they become soft and do not crack when being shaped. Cut circles 25 cm in diameter and place two together (one leaf is not strong enough to hold the mixture). You can press the lid of a pot to the leaves and cut around it for a circular shape. Fold a square shape in the middle of the circle, forming the bottom of the cup. Then put a thumb on one right angle of the square and pull up two sides while tucking the fold, and pin together with a tiny bamboo stick (or toothpicks). Continue until all four sides of the cup are held together.

Enjoy!
 
 
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