Posted by King on 03.12.2008 at 8:49 am
[This is Part Five of Aaron's "Campus Division in Cambodia" story. Here's Part Four and look out for the subsequent tales in the coming week...]
Thursday January 3, 2008
Believe it or not, we again began the day with a phenomenal breakfast. We met up with a few Room to Read staff, and then took a van out to see the first school. Upon entrance, all the students were lined up and clapping for us. Similar to the fanfare of our first night, this was quite humbling; these students were so appreciative of Room to Read, and I was left feeling like I hadn’t done enough.
We spent some time doing Q and A with the teachers at the school, learning a lot more than we ever knew about what these schools and areas are really like.
We then got to meet the parents of the girls who were receiving Room to Read scholarships. This was a group of amazing people. I do not think I had ever seen true hardship before meeting these folks. Most of them labored all day as farmers, not even making enough to completely support their families. They had to sacrifice even more to allow their daughters to leave, not help on the farm, but instead go to school. But they were all willing to do so, to give their daughters a chance at a better life. I could see real love in all of their eyes.
We next got to meet the scholarship recipients themselves, again a heartwarming experience. They were all eager and cheerful and really loved school. It really made me want to do even more to help.
After the school visit, we again had lunch at the buffet, which sadly was no better than our previous excursion there. But our energy and spirits were so high from seeing that school, those parents, and the students, that I am pretty sure they could have fed us dirt and we would have been content.
The afternoon of January 3rd was probably the most astonishing, incredible, phenomenal, breathtaking experience of them all. We embarked to visit a remote village where we visited the homes of 3 Room to Read scholarship recipients
I used the word remote to describe that village, but I don’t think that begins to capture the real nature of this village.
We began by piling into the van, and driving far from the city, deep out onto an extremely bumpy road for what seemed like an hour. The whole time we were thinking “wow, this is pretty far from everything”. We were mistaken however, because by comparison, this dirt road was actually pretty close. At some points, the road was so bumpy we thought the van would overturn, our heads almost hitting the ceiling. We then stopped, thinking again, “ok, this is far out and remote”. We were not there yet, but rather we were just switching from our van to more of an all terrain vehicle, for the road had in fact become too bumpy to continue. Somewhere somehow some Cambodian must have gotten a deal from an army surplus dealer, because this truck was ridiculous. Imagine a mix between a pick up truck and a Tank. Well not quite a tank, it still had actual tires and not treads, but the tires were pretty huge. We all sat in the back on the bed of this truck like school kids on our way to a barn dance. Several times we felt like we might bounce out or tip over, and that poor van certainly would have ended up inverted had we not switched vehicles. On the bright side, there was no roof to bump our head into. At one point I peered forward thinking “there is no way any vehicle could every traverse that”. Well we did, and from that point on I decided it was better to not peek ahead. Some stretches of the road looked as if it had survived a meteor shower. I also noticed that the front part of the truck where the driver sat, did not technically have a floor, you could in fact see directly down to the road below. Since the driver did not seem too worried, I did not bring it up, but it certainly added to my experience.
The sun and breeze were both fantastic during this truck ride, and even with the bumpiness, it was one of the best journeys I have ever been on. You could even look out across the fields and see people working in the rice patties, exactly as you would expect it to look if you had seen it in a movie. I am also running out of synonyms for the word “surreal”. There was no “civilization” for miles in any direction. All we could see were beautiful wide open fields, mountains in the far distance, and a bumpy road that seemed to extend indefinitely in front of us.
Again we thought “wow, we are pretty far out here”, and again we were mistaken. After what again seemed like an hour in the back of this truck, we finally came to the end of the road. We were not at the village just yet, we were actually at a spot where the road dead ended… into a river. And so, it was time to change vehicles yet again. We climbed off the truck, dusted ourselves off, and made our way onto a large covered motor boat. The splendor of this area continued as we made our way through this river, alternating between patches of thick brush, and wide open areas with an amazing view of the countryside. After another long while, our boat emerged from a thick patch of brush, and we saw what looked like a large log cabin build up on stilts sticking out of the water. Our jaws dropped as we turned the corner and saw an entire array of these stilt houses. We had arrived at Broken Palm, the most remote village we had ever seen.
The village existed as a large number of these cabins built up on stilts, some in the water, others set along what was basically a long dirt alley that we could walk through. Most of the stilts were at least 12 if not 20 feet high. We were told that during the rainy season the river actually rises up above the stilts, and a boat is required to enter the home. Sometimes the water had even risen above the floor level, and the family would have to quickly build another level within their home.
Amazingly enough, in spite of the harsh conditions, this felt like a true community, I sensed true happiness around me.
We were welcomed with open arms into the home of a single Mom whose daughter was off at school on an Room to Read scholarship. The scholarship actually allowed the girl to board at the school, which makes a lot of sense after the ridiculous commute we just experienced. If the parents we had met that morning showed love in their eyes, this woman was beaming love out of every pore. She spoke with such pride and care for her daughter, and we had the most priceless of interviews. This same mother has also taken in a young boy (nephew?) who had lost his parents, and during our conversation with her, he was lying in the back room, working on his alphabet. We finally comprehended what it really meant for a young girl to be able to leave a village and go to school. This day will forever go down as one of the most amazing of my life.
The ride back was even more epic than the ride out, because by this time it was getting dark. I could look up from the bed of the truck and see stars, and I again felt that I could have stayed there for days and been happy.
Upon returning to town, we went to dinner with a couple of the Room To Read folks at a different buffet restaurant. Alas, this buffet had nothing amazing about it, but our day leading up to it was so incredible that again, we could have eaten dirt and been the happiest travelers in the world.
We went to bed this night in true awe of all we had seen: the landscape, the people, the community, the commitment, the remote village, the love. We smiled for having been able to have such a once in a lifetime experience, and I think it is safe to say we all felt a renewed vigor to work even harder upon our return, to do everything we can to aide the people we had seen this day, and all others like them around the world.
Posted by King on 03.11.2008 at 7:26 am
[This is Part Four of Aaron's "Campus Division in Cambodia" story. Here's Part Three and look out for the subsequent tales in the coming week...]
Tuesday January 1, 2008
5am felt more like the end of the night than the beginning of a day. Unfortunately, this was too early for the breakfast buffet, so we had to forgo it and instead have breakfast to go in a box. We drove and hiked out to the temples in almost complete darkness. To our surprise, there must have been hundreds of people out there making the trip to see the first sunrise of the New Year over the temple. When the sun rose up over the temple, and cast a reflection on the pool in front, it was quite astonishing. I cannot imagine a better way to ring in the New Year than the overall experience I had in Cambodia.
We continued on and saw several more temples that day, including the temple that appeared in Lara Croft, Tomb Raider 3.
For lunch, we were again taken to a local restaurant, this time a buffet. I wish I could say this was again a buffet filled with wonderful and delicious food, but alas, this story is not completely a fairy tale. Luckily, our group was not one to complain, and we survived with no international incidents of note. Due to our early start, we called it a day shortly after lunch, and went back to relax at the hotel pool. We spent the afternoon relaxing and getting ready for our upcoming time with Room to Read. For Dinner, we found a wonderful Thai restaurant in town, and we rode there on what they call a “tuk tuk”. Imagine a rickshaw, but pulled by a motorcycle. It was both relaxing and invigorating at the same time. Those of us who were meat –eaters decided to be team players, and we ordered 5 different vegetarian dishes that we all shared in the first of many Campus vegetarian food fests. This dinner more than made up for our subpar lunch. You may have heard that there is good thai food in Cambodia. You in fact heard correctly. I am also running out of synonyms for the word delicious.
We discussed our Room to Read plans and some other work issues after dinner, and then went to bed to be fresh for our final day of temple tours.
Wednesday January 2, 2008
We began early again, also enjoying the amazing breakfast at the hotel. After a morning of temple viewing and climbing, we had lunch at a restaurant within the Angkor Wat area. Sor told us he was taking us to “his restaurant”, but we are pretty sure something was lost in the translation. The food was again delectable.
In the afternoon, believe it or not, we visited more temples, bringing our total to 20 over the 3 day period. Trust me, that is a lot. All of them were amazing and all of them were decorated with beautiful engravings.
In the afternoon, we stopped at an orphanage where the children were learning the craft of leatherwork. Going in, I told myself that I would not buy anything… but then I saw the kids, and the artwork was actually pretty good. I only spent $10 got 5 different pieces. Some might say “they gave me good price”. We had bought so much stuff that when we left they all came out and waved good-bye.
After the orphanage we visited the final temple, which might have been my favorite. To get there we walked across a bridge over a small river; as surreal and mystical as all the areas were, this one took it to the next level. We sat on top of the temple and enjoyed another Cambodian Sunset along with traditional Cambodian music. I could have sat there for days and been happy.
We did not have days (4 minutes!), and we departed shortly after sunset to go to the Khmer Kitchen restaurant again and meet the Room to Read Staff. It turns out that the staff had to travel from afar, and so they were running a bit late. We killed some time browsing the local market, getting offered good price left and right. It then turned out that Room to Read was running too late, and would have to miss dinner. These are the facts of international travel. (So we discussed our itinerary and game-plan on our own, then went back to the hotel to get rested before our first school visits.)
[To Be Continued...]
Posted by King on 03.06.2008 at 9:14 am
[This is Part Three of Aaron's "Campus Division in Cambodia" story. Here's Part Two and look out for the subsequent tales in the coming week...]
Monday December 31, 2008
Before departure, we had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. This was hands down the most amazing breakfast buffet I have ever seen. Big trays of rice and noodles and stir fries and meats and eggs and bread and fruit were everywhere. The fruit selection alone would have been enough to put this breakfast over the top as one of my most amazing ever. I don’t think I even recognized half the fruits there. There was one particular fruit we all grew particularly fond of; it was white with little black spots (seeds?) all over it. We speculated what this delicious refreshing fruit could be, with guesses including winter squash, winter melon, white kiwi, and my personal favorite, 101 Dalmatian fruit. It turns out, this delicacy was called “dragon fruit”. Who knew you could grow dragons?!?1
After this delicious breakfast, we joined Sor and took a van out to the Angkor Wat temples, and began our whirlwind tour, where we saw 20 temples over 3 days.
The scene was absolutely amazing, breathtaking if you would. It is actually kind of difficult to describe; it had a magical almost mystical feel too it. I would say the trees were bigger, the grass was greener, the sky was bluer, and there were elephants and monkeys everywhere . Not to mention the huge and ornate temples. It really was like something from a movie. I could close my eyes and see what it would have been like to see this ancient kingdom in full effect with the hustle and bustle of people in full regalia; this is really difficult to capture in words, but the feeling was very surreal.
For lunch, we were taken to a nice local restaurant. Unfortunately, our vegetarian travelers had some minor difficulties with the prepared food they brought us, but an international incident was avoided yet again as we were able to get them some good substitute food.
After the meal, we returned to Angkor Wat to spend more time at the temple. It was again a peaceful experience to walk around and just feel the history and greatness of the place. As the afternoon faded away, our peaceful trance was snapped as we were ushered away to go climb another temple to see the last sunset of the year. “Hurry up, the sun sets in 4 minutes!” we were told, and so we hustled up the winding side of a huge hill. It turns out we made it in plenty of time, but we gained a valuable joke, shouting “4 minutes!” any time we needed to hurry.
I am running out of synonyms for the word amazing, and even Shift F7 is not helping, but this sunset was indeed amazing. I cannot imagine a better way to say goodbye to the year than our experience sitting high atop a temple in Cambodia.
After the sunset, we headed back to the hotel. This was in fact New Year’s eve, and we were debating our options. To the question of “how can you have an amazing New Year’s Even in Cambodia?” there is really no wrong answer. Our one caveat was that we were scheduled to go on a sunrise tour the next morning to see the first sunrise of the New Year come in over the temple. Our itinerary indicated that we would need to be ready to leave the Hotel at 6AM. Sor quickly corrected this for us, and pointed in that in fact 6AM would be too late (4 minutes!), and we had better plan on being ready to go at 5AM. That is quite a daunting prospect to take into a New Years Eve celebration, but we refused to let it phase us. We did decide to stay at the hotel for their gala, so that we would not venture out into trouble.
The gala began with a huge feast, which we enjoyed thoroughly. The evening quickly digressed however, as a couple of singers struggled to entertain the diversely mixed international crowd with renditions of several timeless American classics. It would be rude of me to say it sounded like Karaoke, but I’m not gonna lie, it sounded like Karaoke.
We made the most of it, sitting on the balcony overlooking their performance, enjoying each others company and the ridiculousness of the situation. We reflected on all we had seen that day, and still letting it sink in that we were in fact in Cambodia. I think we collectively managed a couple hours of sleep before our 5AM departure.
[To Be Continued...]
Posted by King on 03.05.2008 at 10:17 am
[This is Part Two of Aaron's "Campus Division in Cambodia" story. Here's Part One and look out for the subsequent tales in the coming week...]
Sunday, December 30th, 2007
After a few hours sleep we got up to explore the city. Our itinerary was to take us to Cambodia later that night, so we had limited time. Our consensus was to visit a nearby Pagoda. There were golden statues and tributes to Buddha all around where people could light incense and pray to Buddha and hope for good luck. The atmosphere was peaceful, serene, refreshing and relaxing, a good omen for things to come.
(L-R: Me (Aaron), Natasha, Damara, Niko)
We regrouped at the hotel to catch our next flight to Cambodia.
We arrived later that evening in Siem Reap, the second largest airport in Cambodia. This was the type of airport that lets you step right off the plane into the fresh air before entering the airport. The night air was crisp clear and refreshing, but alas we were ushered inside to complete yet another round of customs forms and visa applications. For all the bureaucracy of international travel, it really is still worth it.
When we stepped out the other side, some Rood to Read staff, our tour guide and, driver were there greeting us with a giant Room to Read banner welcoming us to the country.
The fanfare and pageantry was far from over. At the hotel, some dancers in full regalia perfomed a traditional Cambodian dance, complete with flower petal tossing. At first, we did not even realize that this grandiose performance was for us, it was so over the top. It was quite a humbling experience. After posing for some photos with the dancers, we showered up and went out for a delicious dinner at Khmer Kitchen.
We were joined by Tith from Room to Read, and were able to get some good preliminary information to prepare us for our upcoming days in Cambodia. We went back to the hotel, relaxed a bit, and then slept in amazing comfort. The next day was to begin our tours of the temples in the Area. Our fearless tour guide, Sor (yes, pronounced as in “sore nose”) gave us the option to start as late as we wanted. Let’s be honest, we chose 10AM, to make sure we were properly rested and ready to go.
[To Be Continued...]
Posted by admin on 01.22.2008 at 3:22 pm
It’s been about a week since I and four other Better World Books employees visited Cambodia to see first hand the incredible impact that Room to Read is making in Cambodian schools through their library, computer classroom and Room to Grow Girls’ Scholarship progroms.
The most soul stirring part of the trip was our visit to the family of a Room to Grow scholar named Yum Sophally. To reach her home we traveled almost 2 ½ hours each way using 3 modes of transportation. The first hour we traveled by car and to our surprise transferred to a hummer truck in order to traverse the rocky and practically road less terrain. Lastly, a 30 minute boat ride brought us to a small fishing community by the name of Thnot Leam Bot which translates into “broken palms”. This small village is the home of 17 Room to Read scholars.
Prior to Room to Read’s assistance these girls would have had to make the very expensive 2 ½ hour trek each day to and from school. However, thanks to the scholarship program, room and board is provided for the scholars close to the school where they are cared for by their teachers.
We were graciously welcomed into the home of Yum’s mother, In Lavy. In Lavy is a 58 year old widower and 16 year old Yum is her only child. As a testament to this woman’s generosity and warmth she has taken in her orphaned niece and nephew who did their homework in the next room as we spoke. In Lavy described Yum as a quiet, gentle, and studious girl who is incredibly cautious and thoughtful. In Lavy, knows that her investment in her education is crucial to Yum fulfilling her dreams of becoming a teacher or doctor.
Although, mother and daughter only see each three times a year they have fully embraced this opportunity as only 19% of Cambodian girls are enrolled in school at the secondary level. As we closed our interview In Lavy promised that “As long as I’m on the earth I’m committed to helping my daughter continue her education.”
Posted by admin on 01.17.2008 at 10:16 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 a 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 encountered 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 in this entire adventure 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 camps 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 generation of educated citizens 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’s 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 contributions 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 imminent 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.
I think back on my childhood and on the privileged path I’ve been on since the age of two. I’ve always been a reader – a passion that was heavily supported by my family and my teachers throughout my formative years. In all my life, I’ve never suffered for the lack of a good book to read. I’ve also been given plenty of recognition and offered numerous scholarships to help me achieve my dreams. I grew up in a country where I was taught that if I think big and believe in myself there is no threshold I cannot cross – no barrier to keep me from my dreams. How much of this have I taken for granted? How many classes have I skipped in my life because I had something “better” to do? I look back on myself and my classmates growing up and I realize that all of us – the richest of us, the poorest, the most clever and more challenged – we all approached our education with at least some degree of indifference, at least some of the time. And why not? Education was always a given, at least through high school. I remember whining about going back to school after a long vacation, wishing I could spend my days outside instead of being cooped up in a classroom with all of its rules and expectations. Cambodia put that all in perspective.
In Cambodia, we met students who, though they lived 15 (very rough) kilometers from home, couldn’t afford to get there more than twice a year. These students came from very poor, very isolated fishing islands and would not have had a chance for a secondary education without Room to Read. Room to Read sends them to school on scholarship, pays for their meals, pays for their housing. I can’t imagine, in 7th grade, being faced with knowing that my stab at an education would come at the price of having to leave my family and everything I’ve ever known. That’s dedication. That’s perspective. I’m so overwhelmed by the bravery of these students, and of the mothers they leave behind as they work towards a better future!
We met hundreds of students on this journey – students of all ages. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to speak to so many of them, and to hear their stories (video footage soon to follow so we can share these stories with all of you). No one’s story was easy, but the one resounding theme I heard throughout – from students and parents alike – was that education is extremely valuable. These students were so grateful for the opportunity to be in school – to study, to work hard, to prove their worth and to build those bridges to the better tomorrows they knew lay ahead. That utter faith, that utter resolve, that perseverance and hope and trust – it was beautiful, astonishing, uplifting … staggering. My latte has long gone cold but if you’re still reading – I’d like to end with this. We don’t all start life on the same footing, but we all deserve to get the most we can out of it. Doing something good for someone else in the world is a lot easier than you’d think – and no problem is ever so overwhelming when you break it down into manageable bits. Some good places to start? I’d of course suggest running a book drive to benefit Room to Read as a most excellent beginning step. Personally, I feel invigorated to start pounding pavement with Better World Books so I can bring on as many book drives as possible. After all, more book drives = more money raised = more scholarships, more libraries … more everything. Here are just a couple other suggestions:
- Run book drives with Better World Books to benefit Room to Read
- Donate directly to organizations that you have researched. Funding a one-year girl’s scholarship through Room to Read is only $250!
- Educate yourself on global issues and share what you learn with friends, family, your barista, your bank teller – everyone you can. I think we’ll all be more inclined towards action if we understand the world as a smaller place.
- Travel – anywhere you can, whenever you can. New perspectives will change you in wonderful ways that you’ll hopefully never quite recover from.
Thanks all, for reading this. Look for more to come from other trip companions in the next few days.
Above are some of the beautiful faces of students that we met during our travels with Room to Read.
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 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 11.21.2007 at 11:07 am
World Change Starts
With Educated Children®
Our partners are always making big news. I can hardly post something on here before something new and exciting comes out about the same group. For example, before we showed you Room to Read at the Clinton Global Initiative, and you would think that would be enough excitement for a while, but alas reader, you would be mistaken. My inbox tells me today that Room to Read is up to more big things. Feel free to check out the full newsletter or my digest below for you busy types.
Room to Read has partnered with GOOD Magazine since 2006 to benefit children in the developing world through GOOD’s unique subscription/donor model. Founded by Ben Goldhirsch in 2004, the magazine seeks to “do good” in the world by contributing 100% of subscription revenue to twelve selected charities. Through this “Choose Good” campaign, subscribers select the charity they would like their donation to go to – this year they have contributed over $52,000 to Room to Read! [emphasis mine]
In addition to donating subscription fees to charities, GOOD hosts a number of events around the country to spread awareness about the Choose Good campaign and their charity partners. These events are always a lot of fun and offer a great opportunity to meet other individuals who are passionate about changing the world. For a list of upcoming GOOD events, please visit: www.goodmagazine.com.
The Literacy Site
Room to Read has been selected as a charity partner of the Literacy Site, which is dedicated to funding free books for children. With a simple daily click of the “Click Here to Give – it’s FREE” button at The Literacy Site, visitors help provide free books to children in need. Visitors pay nothing. The funding of these books is paid for by advertising site sponsors and accomplished through the site’s charitable partners, Room to Read and First Book.
On average, 70,000 individuals visit the site each day to click the “Click Here to Give – it’s FREE” button. To date, more than 55 million visitors have helped provide more than a million books to children who need them the most. We hope you will bookmark the site and visit everyday to click and help children in need get free books. Every click counts!
Little notes (still N.B.!):
- Room to Read and John Wood are featured on page 59-60 in Bill Clinton’s book Giving
- John Wood and Erin Ganju, Room to Read’s COO, were invited to a breakfast at the White House with the First Lady Laura Bush
- Room to Read is the featured charity in Neiman Marcus’ 100th Year Anniversary Christmas Book which debuted on October 2
- Literacy One (a product of Scholastic, Boeing and Cathway Pacific) takes flight, carrying 750,000 English language children’s books for libraries in over the next three years.
- Room to Read opens library in Nepal: their 5000th library!!!
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