The morning was bright and sunny with a smattering of cloud cover. The light filtering through produced a golden cast and made the green rice fields a vibrant lime colour.
It was a great start to my working day – which involved a portrait shoot like none I have previously done.
The subjects of these portraits were some very special ladies and they’re all part of a unique club. They’re the inaugural members of Karl’s Cambodian Cow Club, known to those involved as KCCC.
Karl’s Cambodian Cow Club is the brainchild of Karl Maughan, a compassionate businessman from Cummins in South Australia.
“I started it (KCCC) because I noticed the massive difference a cow can make to the daily life of poor families,” Karl says.
“And just a simple thing can create an income for years ahead.”
He had no idea, on his first trip to Cambodia 18 months ago, that his life would become so heavily entangled with Cambodia and its people.
“In April 2015 we first started KCCC without really knowing it, I guess.
“My eldest son Jack wanted to help some less fortunate people than us for his 21st birthday present.
“So Annie, my wife, looked into volunteer building and came up with VBC (Volunteer Building Cambodia).”
Once they’d found VBC the family decided to head to Siem Reap and build houses for families in need.
“During the first of two house builds at Bakong Village I noticed how the people with cows were sort of higher in the community pecking order.
“So I asked a few people and yes, having a cow in Cambodia is a very important thing. It’s a regular income, with a calf once a year and just having a beast to help with day-to-day village life helps.”
So KCCC was born. And here I was, in the middle of a waterlogged paddock with a frisky calf, bored bull and curious but shy cows.
This pair kept walking up behind me. I could sense them stretching their necks out, wanting to get closer and check out the stranger. But as soon as I turned around they took a step back and gave me this very startled look.
The request to take portraits of the cows came out of the blue, and of course I said yes. I’m always up for a challenge, I love cows and I certainly love any opportunity that gets me into the Cambodian countryside. My brief was simply to make them look happy because apparently in previous images they looked stressed.
All in all these ladies were far more cooperative than I expected. And I soon learnt that pointing a camera at their face made them look shocked, worried or stressed very fast. They really didn’t like the big thing in front of my face. It took about half an hour or so for them to warm up and realise I really wasn’t that interesting and they should make the most of the tasty grass around them. This one preferred dried banana leaves, but whatever works.
How the cow club works
So how does KCCC work?
“Basically we have our breeding stock as such – KCCC cows – and we try to encourage people to sponsor the unborn calf,” Karl explains.
“The cow and calf will be given to a poor family to look after as their own. The calf will stay with them and they can breed from it as they want. The KCCC cow will get pregnant again and go on to the next poor family.
“The calf left with the family will be theirs to earn money from, but they must not sell the calf they are given.
“I know it can be up to 18 months before any money will return (to the family) but I hope it will teach the families to budget and help with future planning.”
Of course, setting KCCC up has not been without its challenges and Karl says working out the best way to run it has not been easy. But he said the biggest challenge has been the communication barrier.
“The Khmer people are so lovely and want to help but sometimes a yes doesn’t mean they know what ya talking about,” he says.
“So to turn left, sometimes you need to turn right three times to get to the same place.”
It has been frustrating, especially as he is trying to organise most of it from Australia but he is hoping his cow club will help give a few families some added income and some opportunities they might not otherwise have had.
“I know I can never change the world but if we can educate more kids then one day they might.
“So with the proceeds we make, after general running costs of employing locals to help with yard building, grass cutting and hay making, we are looking into university scholarships for the kids who would never normally get a chance (of an education).
“I’m very excited about the future with a lot of people showing interest in helping out,” Karl says.
Learn more about Karl’s Cambodian Cow Club
If you want to learn more or would like to help Karl and his cow club visit Karl’s Cambodian Cow Club Facebook page for information and contact details.