Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Library Project! A Bracelet Weaving Project!

It’s really amazing what worthwhile projects one can become involved with when volunteering here in Cambodia. While waiting for the groundbreaking of the ‘Muskoka School’ Project to occur, I have become involved in a couple of rewarding projects here.

A while back, I had the opportunity to visit one of the schools for poor children on the outskirts of Siem Reap. The Voluntary Development Poverty Children’s School (VDPCS) provides free education for over 600 children. This school is supported by ‘Project Enlighten’ . Most children in Cambodia can’t afford the 300 riel per day to attend school. Families who can afford it, usually only send their eldest son to school, leaving the other children in the family without an education. Of the 600 children at VDPCS, over 60% are girls. Kindergarten to grade 11 curriculum is taught at this school.

Many of the children at this school have lost either one or both of their parents (a large proportion to HIV). Many of the children at this school work or beg in the streets to subsidize their families’ incomes. Children from the surrounding area attend this school faithfully and eagerly six days a week!

One of the great things about this school is that it has a special room designated as a Library! It was during my first visit to this library, that the school director, Mr. Togh, had mentioned to me hat the Library’s over 600 books (primarily in English) were totally unorganized and unlabelled. When Mr. Togh heard that I had worked over 20 years in the public library field in Canada, he asked if I could help to organize the collection. I am now head over heels involved in a fantastic project that will benefit English language education for these children.

Shally is the teacher/librarian here at the school. When I told him how libraries operate back home, and how children can loan books and take them home for a period of time, he exclaimed “I want to be able to do that here too!” At present, children can only look at the books briefly in-between classes – how much more their English could improve, if they could takes the books home! What enjoyment these children could experience by being able to read a book at home! Most of these kids don’t have tv, toys or any other sources of entertainment.

So, I sent out an email to Robena Kirton, Chief Librarian at the Gravenhurst Public Library back home. She is personally donating bookends, rolls of library tape, posters, etc, for this library.

Of the 4 walls in this library, only one has any shelving. My good friend and Rotarian, Jay Harrison and his wife Linda will be arriving here in Siem Reap on Friday, February 13th! - A lucky day for the kids at the VDPCS, because Jay and Linda will be funding and building a whole new wall of shelves for the library there. They’ll also be bringing along all the donations from Robena Kirton. They are also trying to round up some much-needed non-fiction books for the library here. Then our work here will really begin.

While the shelves are being built, we will also be writing the titles of each book on a book card, gluing book pockets in each book and placing the completed book card in each pocket. All along the students here have been volunteering their free time to help process and label the books. That part of the work was completed yesterday. You would not believe how eager the kids are to get into that library everyday and help with this project. They are so excited at the aspect of being able to take a book home to study and read.

I have a few more days of cleanup in the library now, and then, while we wait for the arrival of the library donations to arrive in February, Shally and I thought it would be great to hold some library ‘Storytimes’ with crafts for the kids in the library.

All-in-all, a great project to enhance the English reading skills of the eager learners here at the poverty school.

Now for some news on a second great project underway – Bracelet Weaving for the poor Khmer children here, and the Burmese refugee students in Mae Sot! You could call it the makings of a small cottage industry that will help bring in some extra income for these students. This idea was the brainchild of Olivia Lorge, co-founder of ‘Project Enlighten’, with some great ideas on how to market and expand on this project from my good friend and supporter Dan Blix of Gravenhurst.

Here’s what we are up to:

Olivia went to a shop back in Thailand and bought some colorful string for weaving bracelets. She remembered doing this craft when she was younger. She showed me the simple braiding pattern that she had remembered.

The house where I am staying at here in Siem Reap is owned by a Khmer family with three daughters. One evening I invited the three girls up to my room to do some bracelet weaving with me. Much to my surprise, they all too well knew this craft and knew of dozens more patterns, some incorporating beads! We soon ran out of the supply of string that I had on hand, so I’m now trying to find out where I can get some suitable hemp, string and beads around here.

The three girls decided that they want the bracelets and necklaces that they wove be given to poor children to raise some money for food, clothes, etc. When Dan Blix heard this, he suggested that perhaps some of the schoolchildren at VDPCS could make some bracelets to sell to raise money for the school, with perhaps a small artist’s fee given to the children who made them.

I’ll be spending the month of March teaching English in a safe house in Mae Sot to a group of Burmese ethnic Kayan young women and girls. These women are traditionally known as the long-necked women, who wear the gold rings around their neck. These women are not wearing this traditional encumbrance, and are presently being schooled in human rights, women’s rights and other courses in Mae Sot. They are being schooled in Mae Sot and then will go back to Burma to share their knowledge with other women within their villages there.

The only income these women have is from the very few odd sewing jobs that arrive at the safe house. This bracelet weaving project would be an excellent idea for some extra income for them. The bracelets and necklaces could be sold at a local market, with the funds going back to them. I’d like to get a huge supply of materials over to them for March. Once they have learned this craft, they can take that skill back with them into Burma to teach their friends in the poor villages there.

My other idea it to take some of these supplies in to the remote refugee Camp Nu Po that our Project Enlighten team visited over Christmas. The school children at the 2 needy schools there could make these items to sell at the markets, and the funds could be used for school supplies, which can be bought extremely cheaply here.

Today is Sunday, my day off from school. I’ll be having lunch soon with our ‘Project Enlighten’ university scholarship girls. It is always such a delight to get together with them.

Richard Fitoussi from the Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund arrives in Siem Reap tomorrow. The exciting plans for the ‘Muskoka School’ Project will then be getting into full swing. Next Sunday, I’ll be spending the day at the school site. I have been asked to give an hour-and-a-half class and craft there. It will be fun to get involved with the kids at Ta Trav Village again!