Project description: Libraries

By: Emily Burns (IYFABW Treasurer)

I became a board member of International Youth for a Better World because I saw its great potential to help people, especially children. Children often bear the brunt of adults’ bad decisions and suffer disproportionately from poverty, disease, trafficking, corruption, and war around the world.

Children have immediate basic needs: security, food, shelter, and medicine. For the longer term, education and opportunity are just as important. Schools in almost every country in the world are unequal in number and quality between rich and poor. Poor children rarely receive the high-quality education they deserve. Beyond the basics, children also need the chance to express their imagination and ideas. They need to create. Wasting the talents and potential of children who happen to be born poor is one of the most short-sighted and destructive things that humanity inflicts upon itself.

Cambodia illustrates the problem of inequality in education. According to UNESCO, Cambodia’s adult literacy rate during the 2008 census was 77.6%. Broken down by gender, it is 85% for males and 70.9% for females. Urban literacy is also higher than rural literacy. Rural schools are isolated by bad roads, and wealth is concentrated in cities.

Our organization’s purpose is to give young people the education and opportunity to become leaders in their communities. We want to help children learn and create. One of our pilot projects is to build a library and art room for a rural primary school in Cambodia. This project is dedicated to my sister Rebecca, a talented artist from childhood, who was lucky enough to have art lessons when she was young. She went on to be a graphic artist, illustrator, and designer. She passed away earlier this year, and in her memory, I want other children to have the chance to read and to make art, as she loved to do.

We are going to build the library/art room at Ou Chom Krom Primary School in Samlout, Battambang Province, Cambodia. The school has 130 students, half boys and half girls.

The building will have windows for natural light and a solar panel to power desk lamps. A strong roof will protect books and art supplies from rain during the long monsoon season. We will supply the room with tables, chairs, bookcases, paper, easels, paints, crayons, paintbrushes, and modeling clay. The books will include basic readers in Cambodian to help children learn to read; bilingual Cambodian/English and Cambodian/French dictionaries; manga and comics to get children interested in reading; Cambodian folk tales and history books; science and animal books; and, we hope, much more.

We have permission from local authorities and the school to build the library/art room, and it will be called “Rebecca’s Library”. Once we build and supply a library and art room for one school, we want to replicate it at other primary schools across Cambodia and eventually in other countries.

There are places in Cambodia where children cannot attend school at all. These include “floating villages” of houseboats on large rivers. Children and their families live on the water and fish for a living. Sanitation and water quality are poor, and there are no schools. We want to construct small floating libraries to serve these villages. Like the Bookmobiles that take books to remote areas in the U.S., these libraries would travel on boats or rafts between the floating villages. Once we build partnerships with other educational organizations, we want to help build floating schools.