This post steps away from the usual programming a little. It is not about health systems, medical procedures and my messed up body, nor is it about fitness, exercise and training. Instead, I want to write about the trip I’ve just been on, but in order to do that, I feel that more context will be useful.
I can’t remember a time before I loved books and reading. When I was a kid (from the time I started school and learnt to read), my free time was usually spent in a library, in a bookshop or hidden somewhere, reading a book. Some of my favourite books as a child are still on my bookshelves today, and still read and loved – the Ramona series by Beverly Clearly, the books about Fudge, Peter and Sheila by Judy Blume, the books about Anastasia and Sam by Lois Lowry, the entire collection of the Baby-Sitters Club (all 213 of them!), Teen Power Inc, the Famous Five, the Magic Faraway Tree, Selby the talking dog… I cannot imagine my childhood without them.
As an adult, I still spend a lot of time in bookshops, libraries and hidden somewhere, reading a book. I feel extremely lucky to have had the education that I’ve had (and am still having), and the opportunities to borrow, buy, and read.
In 2008, I did my Honours research on the topic of independent bookshops in Sydney: has the growth of chain bookshops and online retailing killed off the indie? The answer was a resounding ‘no’, at least in Australia. That year, my love for good books and bookshops was reignited – a bit like a renewal of vows. In January this year, I started a PhD on the topic of public libraries. There is a bit of a theme in my research.
The trip that I went on last month was primarily to see a library. In 2009, I read a book called ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World‘ by John Wood. Wood was on a holiday in Nepal when he met a local who said that his library only had a few books. When Wood returned home, he sent out a call to his friends and contacts about his promise to send some books to this village in Nepal. That first call yielded about 3000 books, and in the past twelve years that call for books has turned into an international organisation called Room to Read.
Room to Read is an amazing organisation whose mission is to increase people’s access to education in developing countries around the world. They build libraries, schools, have programmes to help young girls go to/stay in school, have local language publishing programmes which support local writers, artists and publishers and help preserve language and culture, and work with governments to develop reading and writing materials and curriculum.
Apart from having a mission and vision I am completely behind and passionate about, I also love that Room to Read engages with the local community so much. My partner Andy earlier this year donated money to build a primary school library in Cambodia (I’ve donated money to Room to Read too, though nowhere near as much as Andy – there are more limits when you’re still a student). He donated the majority of the funding, but 15% was matched by the local community through money and goods and services provided in-kind. The library is staffed by locals, there is a library committee of locals, and everyone working in the Siem Reap office of Room to Read were Cambodians. This charity isn’t a case of rich Westerners importing their culture and people.
So yes – that’s where I went last month. We went on a two week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with another friend, and Andy and I went to see the library that he helped build.
Andy and the library, built to a local architectural style. It opened at the start of October, 2012.
Books and shelves in the library. We went only two or three weeks after the library opened, and there were about 700 books inside. More will be added as time goes on. Room to Read will be supporting the library with training for staff and resources for three years, and then it will be entirely in the hands of the local school and community.
Some of the books in the library, including ones published by Room to Read as part of the local language publishing programme.
Drawing time in the library.
One of the best bits of seeing the library was later when we were meeting with the local committee and classes had ended. We could see students putting library books into the baskets of their bikes – using the library and reading at home! How exciting is that?!
A map of where Room to Read has programmes in Cambodia; in the Siem Reap office.
Pretty cool, isn’t it? Massive thank you to Room to Read for giving us the opportunity, and Mott who was our guide and translator on the day. Here’s to books, education and changing the world!
[More photos here.]