Posted by Xavier on 01.22.2008 at 4:56 pm
What a crazy five days it has been! We arrived at the Sundance Film Festival the day before it started on January 16. We’d been asked to take part in The Giving Suite at Sundance Film Festival, which takes the concept of an exclusive celebrity gifting suite and turns it on its head. At this Suite, everyone is welcome, and people buy eco-friendly products (and books!) with 100% of proceeds going to charity.
We’re hoping to fund a lot of girls’ scholarships through Room to Read‘s “Room to Grow” program. We set up a mini-bookshop of about 150 carefully selected titles, and of course people could shop BetterWorld.com if they couldn’t find something on the shelves.
I’ll be posting much more from the festival soon. For now, a few photos:
Some new friends showing off their “Speak softly and carry a bag of books.” tote bags from Better World Books.
Well Read indeed! The Book Throne: it’s everywhere you want to be.
Posted by admin on 01.17.2008 at 10:13 am
(posted by Better World Books alum, Natasha Harris)
I’m currently sitting in a Los Angeles coffee shop sipping on a rather tasty latte that cost (gulp) a whopping $3.65. That’s some perspective. Just last week I would probably have been sipping an even more delicious cup of Vietnamese coffee (probably at this very moment, as it’s 6pm here, and Vietnam is 15 hours into the future – 9am breakfast) that cost all of $.33 and came from a cup that did not have the Starbucks label on it.
Since back, I’ve sat down several times to put down a few words about my experiences in Southeast Asia for all of you. It’s been difficult to find words to express all that I experienced while there, and several times I’ve put aside my notes for other things, waiting for the words to come to me.
What struck me most from this entire experience was not the incredible temple visits that we did (see Aaron King’s January 13th blog posting entitled “Life Comes at You Fast” for an insightful and thoroughly regaling account of our trip itinerary), or the fuzzy feeling that comes from being on the other side of the world, or the inherent beauty of Southeast Asia, or the food or even the poverty (which was certainly striking) – it was that deep-rooted optimism, that trust in tomorrow that so many people displayed and felt so intrinsically. In the week I spent in Cambodia with Room to Read and the many people I interacted with while there, I saw it over and over, and the impact of it was so humbling I know I’ll never find the right words to describe it no matter how long I stare at this computer. Again, perspective.
For those of you who are unaware of what’s been happening in Cambodia over these past many decades (don’t feel bad) – here is the quickest of recaps: the Khmer Rouge was a very radical communist party that was in power in Cambodia from 1975-1979 (and thereafter, though less officially). Its main goals were to turn Cambodia into a classless agrarian society, and to that end it abolished currency, private property and religion, and forced people out of the cities and into intensive labor campus to work the fields. During this four year period, roughly 1.5 – 2 million people (about 20% of the population) died from overwork, starvation, torture and execution. Almost immediately after its rise to power, the Khmer Rouge began a program of mass executions – among the first to die were the elite, religious figures and the educated … right down to anyone who wore glasses. In a few short years, an entire populated of educated people was wiped out, setting the stage for a most dire situation in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of horror.
Not only did the Khmer Rouge implement mass-killings of the educated but it also destroyed much of the education-based infrastructure that existed throughout the country. In Siem Riep Province, where we spent our week with Room to Read, only one high school and twenty primary schools remained after the Khmer Rouge regime fall from power. Cambodia has faced an arduous uphill battle on every imaginable front to get to the point its reached today, and yes, there is still a long way to go. Today, Siem Riep boasts 56 high schools and 452 primary schools, along with 2 vocational training centers and a teacher training college. That’s quite an improvement! Ask any Cambodian and they will proudly acknowledge how far they’re come, recognizing of course how much is left to go.
As a westerner, I’m going to have to take a moment to be a realist and relay to you a few of the things we noted on our trip. For starters, resources are still so lacking that no child in a Cambodian public school attends for more than half the day. Teachers can sometimes be fairly under-educated themselves, and are always extremely underpaid (about $40 per month). The government only has $600-$800 million as its total annual budget, thus its contribution to education cannot meet demand. On a Room to Read visit to Angkor Wat High School (where Room to Read had built a beautiful library and also supplied a computer lab and language lab), the headmaster identified the school’s most immediate and pressing need as electricity – the school’s monthly electric bill is in the vicinity of $300-$350, and this cost cannot be subsidized by the government. The school lives in constant fear of not being able to keep its lights on. And then there is the issue of supplies – another school we visited (one where Room to Read is planning to build a library this year – 2008!) had 2,315 students and a current total of 200-300 books … to share … between everyone.
Posted by King on 01.12.2008 at 8:11 pm
Our first experience on the streets of Vietnam was a breathtaking one; not in the “oh-wow-this is so amazing and beautiful-I can’t even breathe-I’m so happy” kind of way (which does technically describe their sunrises over the South China Sea), but rather breathtaking in a “hyperventilating, oh-my-god-we-are-all-about-to-die” manner.
First of all, you need to know that Vietnam is the land of the motorbike. Motorcycles and riders outnumbered the cars at least twelve to one. The only cars out there were primarily taxies and delivery trucks. Now imagine a very fast river, with rapids pounding all over rocks, water cascading everywhere. Now substitute water and rocks for very large mass of these bikers and cars, and you have this amazing fast paced moving stream of traffic. Traffic lights were few and far between, and even then only occasionally obeyed. It was like a huge stampede of wild horses running through the jungle. Really fast.
Our taxi driver speeds away from the airport at a fairly fast clip, (tough to say, we were too nervous to do the metric conversion). Upon approaching the intersection of vehicular chaos, our driver did not slow down a bit (as we might have expected), but if anything accelerated, and dove right in. Amazingly, it was perfect. Not a single rider was overturned. It was like the traffic was one single organism, moving as one. Some motor bikes swerved a bit, some slowed a bit, and our taxi immediately became engulfed as part of the stream, picture perfect osmosis. We then proceeded to begin passing and merging other vehicles with complete abandon, again with no harm caused. It was like every single rider was completely aware of his or her surroundings. We even saw many bikes with families on them, a mother, father and small child all sandwiched on one fast moving bike in the middle of the stream. At a certain point we had to let go and imagine we were actually watching a high speed chase in a movie, and hope to high heaven there would be no overturned fruit trucks in this scene.
Upon arriving safely and soundly at our hotel, our driver then had the audacity to demand a big tip on top of his already jacked up price as a reward for how quick he got us there. Let’s be honest, I gave him 2 dollars, cause I was definitely impressed.
Posted by admin on 01.03.2008 at 1:01 am
This is part of a series covering BWB founder Xavier’s recent trip to Africa.
*November 11, 2007.
For Xavier and me, starting off the day with a game of “dive for the Frisbee” in the Indian Ocean is just about perfect. The only thing wrong with this particular morning was that I forgot to take off my non-waterproof watch before jumping in the waves- d’oh!
Kites over beach on the Indian Ocean. Durban, South Africa.
Our first school visit was here in Durban, at Christianenburg Primary School, which has a library with about 10,000 donated books (from a container split by 25 area schools). There are 1305 students aged 5-15, called ‘learners’ here in South Africa, and the student-teacher ratio is almost 50:1. There are 28 classrooms and 34 teachers here. The buildings and layout are representative of all schools here; long buildings painted the school colors with flowering bushes. The principal, Nomsa Shandu, deputy principal Bonga Mkize and librarian Thandi Putini were willing to accommodate our visit on a Sunday afternoon.
School staff Shandu, Putini and Mkeze.
The library is beautifully organized and has a sign that said, “My Golden Rules: Order at All Times is the Motto of This Room”. The books are neatly placed and include two small shelves in Zulu language; the thousands of others are in English. The learners can’t check out the books but are given time to visit the library to read. Shandu, who has been here 20 years, spoke at length about the learners. She told us that the students have difficulties with the school fees, which are 150 Rand per year (under $25), but that coming to school is worth it for the free daily government-provided meal for each primary student.
We had a wonderful visit! The system works- the books are in the school, available each day for the kids. Tomorrow is an even bigger day for us; we have five schools and classes will be in session. I’m not expecting it to be easy to meet all the kids, now knowing that many of them only eat once a day, that many will be AIDS orphans. It’s quite a different thing to know some stats about a place and to know personally the names and faces that are behind them, but I am happy thinking of the commited and caring teachers we met today.
Christianenburg Primary School.
Mural at Christianenburg Primary School, Durban, South Africa.
Posted by admin on 12.30.2007 at 8:59 pm
The Better World Books excursion to south east Asia has begun successfully. Niko, Yanna, Damara, Natasha and myself (Aaron) have all survived the ~20 hours of flights to arrive in Ho Chi Min, ready to embrace the culture.
No time for elaborate postings right now, we are off to see a Pagoda.
Little known fact: our flight took us over the North Pole. We left Chicago and headed due North, contrary to my expectations that we would go West. I almost went to knock on the cockpit, but I decided to trust in the Pilot. We circumnavigated the globe and arrived safely with no Internatonal incidents of note to report.
see you soon from the other side of the world.
Posted by admin on 10.29.2007 at 10:10 am
The following is an official release from the NCFL in regards to our visit to the Santa Rosa school this summer:
In August, a team of eight Better World Books staff, along with NCFL Senior Director Emily Kirkpatrick, Development Specialist Andrea Peters, and Training Specialist Kim Jacobs, helped the Santa Rosa Family and Child Education (FACE) program get ready to welcome students for the new school year.
The FACE program, sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Education, offers educational services to American Indians on 39 reservations. Santa Rosa serves families on the Tohono O’odham Reservation in Arizona. NCFL has provided training and technical assistance to the FACE program since its inception in 1991. Better World Books was already familiar with the FACE program after donating thousands of books to all the sites last year. Many programs used those books for incentives, prizes, gifts, and to build classroom and school libraries.
This summer, Better World Books staff were ready to get their hands dirty—literally. They helped prepare the Santa Rosa dorm for students, mowed and raked, cleaned graffiti off playground equipment, set up computers, and distributed additional donated books. They also had an opportunity to observe the opening days of the program.“In addition to being able to really get to see and understand the FACE program in action and better appreciate NCFL’s role in helping to architect the program, we all had the chance to pitch in and help get the Santa Rosa School itself “in shape” for the opening day of school,” said Better World Books CEO David Murphy. “We were humbled by the experience.”
FACE staff were appreciative of everyone’s efforts. “Without the help of this team,” said Sister Val Beuke, the Santa Rosa FACE coordinator, “our room would never have been so perfectly ready for the little ones.”
Read more about the NCFL-Better World Books partnership.
Posted by admin on 10.24.2007 at 9:25 am
Hey all! So, my Rocky Mountain expedition is nearly at a close (More adventures from New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado to come later) and I’ve picked up a couple of tips that I wanted to share:
Weber State University in Utah suggests using printable nametags to fill in the Who, What, When, section of your posters. You can buy these at most any store that sells office supplies (and if you save the receipt your RD can make sure you are reimbursed). They cut down on the time it takes to prep your posters and give them a professional look.
If you have a problem with folks tossing trash in your bins, UC-Denver and Metro State College recommend placing your collection bins next to garbage receptacles. They’ve also found that taping the book slot down to the size of a large text book has helped to reduce the amount of garbage collected.
More to come soon and in the meantime, good luck with midterms, finals, and holiday travels!
Abby doing her best Ansel Adams in Utah
Posted by admin on 10.16.2007 at 7:30 am
My adventure began in Greeley, CO at the Phi Theta Kappa Colorado Region Conference. Beforehand, Ron Fay, Phi Theta Kappa advisor at Aims Community College, and coordinator of the most successful Phi Theta Kappa drive in the Rocky Mountain Region (81 cartons this spring!) gave me a great tour of the campus.
The conference was great fun and inspired many new Phi Theta Kappa groups to get involved with Better World Books. After talking to each other and hearing of how successful the Phi Theta Kappas at Pikes Peaks Community College (35 cartons!), Arapahoe Community College (37 cartons!), and Colorado Mountain College-Alpine (32 cartons!) and others were this year. Thank you all for the opportunity to attend.
The trip to Colorado gave me the opportunity to visit many other great schools as well.
CU-Boulder had an amazing book drive this spring, coordinated by Alternative Breaks. Brie, the drive coordinator, has handled the book drive for 3 semesters and brought in 105 cartons this spring promoting solely with e-mails and using only two collection bins! This spring we are planning to get another student group involved and double the number of promotion methods and collection bins – Go Buffaloes! Let’s see 210 cartons for literacy!
Golden Key and Mortar Board are planning to take the reins of a drive at CSU-Ft. Collins. Not to play off of an old rivalry, but I think CSU could compete well with CU-Boulder’s spring book drive — they have an incredibly motivated group of coordinators and I’m excited to see how successful this drive can become.
I was also able to visit Front Range Community College–Larimer, where the Office of Student Life will begin coordinating numerous student groups on campus for a successful drive. These groups will be responsible for varied aspects of the book drive and each will have the opportunity to table in the Student Center. This should be a great way for the student groups to increase membership while supporting literacy!
Thank you, everyone, for the opportunity to visit! I’ve had an awesome time meeting everyone and becoming more familiar with your campuses and experiencing the beauty of Colorado!
Posted by admin on 09.25.2007 at 9:12 am
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Santa Rosa School on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation in the Sonoran Desert.
I was thoroughly impressed with the FACE program; it’s an innovative concept, bringing children and their guardians to the school together. Parents and Grandparents could work on projects in one classroom, ultimately working towards getting their GED, while the children would work and play in another classroom. All throughout the day, they had prearranged times for the children and their guardians to come together and the kids could immediately show what they were learning. This approach that promotes education and family togetherness at the same time seems destined for success, making it enjoyable for all to come to the school daily.
Posted by admin on 09.17.2007 at 1:56 pm
I’d like to weigh in briefly on the BWB trip to Santa Rosa School on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation in the Sonoran Desert. As stated in some of the previous blog posts, The National Center for Family literacy organized this trip, and we were checking out one of their programs called FACE that stands for Family and Child Education.
I could tell you a lot of good information about FACE and the National Center for Family Literacy, or about this incredible woman Sister Val, but I think that’s been pretty well covered. I’d just like to touch briefly on what the trip meant for me…
The highlight for me was spending time in the first grade classroom and on the basketball court at recess. The kids on the reservation were so excited about learning, having fun and preserving their heritage. The Santa Rosa school has a big challenge that they are facing – kids are dropping out and joining gangs at a young age – however their staff puts forth an amazing effort to provide an excellent place for learning. One teacher, Coach, was the school’s IT guy, gym teacher, athletic coach taking them to games against reservation schools hundreds of miles a way. You could hear kids enthusiasm in shouting “Coach!” just as they passed him in the hall. I am grateful for people like Coach and Sister Val.
I think that it is pretty awesome that an organization like Better World Books would undertake offering employees a program/benefit that would subsidize sending them to visit the literacy programs that we are all working so hard to support. It makes perfect sense, get employees together to visit a location and get energized about our mission. As an added benefit, employees get to know each other better and become a stronger team.
Thank you to Santa Rosa School! Although technically we were the volunteers, I think that BWB employees got the most out of being there and learning about the school, FACE, and Tohono O’odham culture.
And Coach – let me know if you need some help teaching basketball to the kids…
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