Room to Read Cambodia

Star student, Roeurn Kakada, reads aloud from a book at Room to Read’s center at Chimeak Primary School.

On my recent visit to Room to Read’s new library and literacy programs in the Cambodian provinces of Kampong Thom and Siem Reap, I was struck by the enthusiasm with which the children approached reading – tiny boys and girls voraciously devouring one book after another.

I couldn’t help but think back to a time not so long ago when the Khmer Rouge burned all the books they could get their hands on in an attempt to purge the country of any trace of life before what was to be known as year zero.

Following nearly four years of brutal Khmer Rouge rule and 10 years of internal conflicts, in many ways the country had to start again from scratch.

Today, Cambodia is still struggling to shed its post-war status, but since my first trip here in 2006, I have witnessed so much positive change with each subsequent visit, and it was a true pleasure to see Room to Read’s programs in action there.

It’s so cliché to say it. Change starts with the youth, but sometimes the most salient concepts are the ones we should adhere to the most.

At Room to Read’s Ta Lek Primary School library deep in the rural parts of Kampong Thom province, I watched transfixed as the children threw themselves at the bookshelves with unabated appetite. Most of the parents cannot read, but today their kids can. They also regularly listen to Room to Read’s weekly radio program, which promotes reading, but they all unanimously agreed that reading itself is better than radio – the only form of modern entertainment available in their village.

Roeurn Kakada, an 11–year old girl I met at Room to Read’s centre at Chimeak Primary School just outside of Kampong Thom city, stood out as something of a star student. She reads several books every day, draws a lot, and plans to be an illustrator when she grows up, and who is to say she might not one day be employed by Room to Read. They published 25 new titles in Khmer in 2011, illustrated and written by Cambodia’s up and coming writers and artists, and they plan to release 30 new books in 2012.

Room to Read also introduced a pilot literacy program in 20 schools across Cambodia, two of which I visited in Siem Reap province. The program, supported by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, saw the creation of a new textbook and the implementation of a phonic and whole language approach, which teachers say has facilitated an increase in literacy levels, and indeed, test results show a remarkable improvement in reading and writing abilities. The program also encourages community outreach as teachers encourage parents to support their children as they embark on the task of learning how to read and write Khmer, even though often times, the parents themselves are illiterate.

These are the kinds of programs that really work – simple, almost obvious, and yet so effective at lifting people out of the conditions of poverty. It goes without saying that education is indispensible to participation in the global economy, but it also enriches the human spirit by inspiring people to dream without limits, and rewrite their own destiny.

For more information on Room to Read’s amazing programs around the world, check out this New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof.

Please also consider making a donation to Room to Read.

Below you will find a selection of images. Click here for the full archive of images.

Roeurn Kakada, left, and Eung Vichaka read book at Room to Read’s new center at Chimeak Primary School.

 

Children read at Room to Read’s center at Chimeak Primary School.

 

Parents sit with their children at Room to Read’s library at Ta Lek Primary School.

 

Children gather around as a woman reads aloud in Room to Read’s library at Ta Lek Primary School.

Children read together at Room to Read’s library at Ta Lek Primary School.

Children learn to read and write at Lvea Primary School where teachers implement Room to Read’s literacy program.

Children learn to read and write at Lvea Primary School where teachers implement Room to Read’s literacy program.

Children learn to read and write at Lvea Primary School where teachers implement Room to Read’s literacy program.

Children learn to read and write at Lvea Primary School where teachers implement Room to Read’s literacy program.


Children learn to read and write at Sok San Primary School where teachers implement Room to Read’s literacy program.