Visit to the Rudi Boa Library
January 5, 2017
Two years ago, I never thought my husband Patrick and I would be standing in a library in Cambodia that we helped create. How lucky were we to have been part of such a close-knit group of people dedicated to community service in the Downtown San Diego Rotaract Club? Our small but mighty group of friends worked hard to raise more than $13,000 and work with Traveling Stories’ Mybrary program to make the Rudi Boa library possible through a partner organization in Cambodia called the Advanced Centre for Empowerment (or ACE). Even after knowing the library was up and running in 2016, it still very much remained an idea to me – something I couldn’t fully connect with.
However, after being stationed in Japan for about a year and a half, my husband and I decided to make the trip to see the library ourselves and collect some donations along the way. My husband had been to Cambodia before, but I was a first-timer. I simply thought the idea of taking some books to the kids at the library would be a nice thing for us to do, and we were excited to see the library in action. What I didn’t realize was the effect that seeing those kids (and Cambodia in general) would have on me.
We met up at the main ACE office in Phnom Penh and caught a tuk-tuk to the library. The roads were dusty, the weather hot and sunny, and the ride went well outside of the main city and into an area full of factories. Our ACE representative explained to us that it can be difficult for them to persuade children to stay in school and focus on education, as most families expect their children to start working at young ages to help support their families, most of whom are living in poverty. Battling the correlation between illiteracy and poverty, Cambodia recently launched a campaign to increase literacy rates. I’d like to think the Rudi Boa library is a great asset to that campaign!
After arriving at the Rudi Boa library, we were led to the back of the center filled with smiling children sitting at desks after just have finished a lesson in English. Immediately, they asked us our names and were more than impressed with Patrick’s height (about 2 meters, or 6 feet 6 inches). They all asked if he’d pick them up and hold them at that height, which he was happy to do!
We were then able to have them all sit around us as we read them a story about a firefly finding his own identity, and ACE staff were more than happy to translate our English into Khmer for the children. Finally, we were able to give our gifts of 130 books (a variety of English only, Khmer only and English/Khmer) and 53 book bags to the children. Thanks to a mini fundraising campaign before our trip to Cambodia, we were able to raise about $350 – those funds sure went a long way in Cambodian bookstores and markets! I also decided to add a little Japanese culture by making about 80 origami bookmarks to share with all the kids. It was great to see how excited the kids were about the books! We passed out bags and bookmarks, but there was a loud cheer and clapping when we pulled out all the brand new books for their shelves! Children surrounded the desk where we piled the books and joyfully looked through all of the new options. The library shelves were not low on books by any means, but it was a great feeling to know that kids will have more than 100 more different options than before!
Overall, it was a life-changing experience to see the library firsthand. So many children in Cambodia aren’t able to receive any education, and many others are forced to forego education to work. Here’s to hoping that even more books will help more children fall in love – and stay in love – with reading and create more opportunities for these great children!