If you build a library, they will read
A little over a year ago I started work on a library development project at the high school in my village after noticing that there was no library and that even the system for lending out textbooks was flawed.
More importantly, I saw that students had nothing to do when teachers were absent from class. Many students would just leave school out of boredom, or they would horse around in the classrooms.
After planning and budgeting, and with the support of my school and Peace Corps, I proposed the project to my supportive friends and family in America who gave generously. This is exactly what their money went to.
First, we organized the collection of old textbooks from the last 40 years, getting rid of unusable textbooks. We cleaned out an old classroom being used for storage and painted it with bright, welcoming colors. We even painted a big world map outside the library, which students visit on a daily basis to see how many countries they can recognize and see who can be the first to find Cambodia.
About 35 percent of the funds went to bookshelves. Good strong bookshelves are so important because they need to outlast Cambodian elements including rats, snakes, spiders, leaking roofs during monsoons, termites, dust, mud and more. We bought sturdy glass and metal shelves with sliding doors.
The rest of the funds went toward books and office supplies. We also received book donations from local people and organizations. We now have well over 1,000 books covering a wide range of topics in both Khmer and English. With the help of counterparts, we furnished the library with tables, desks and chairs. I decorated the walls with library rules, charts and maps.
I spent many weeks organizing the books in the library, and creating a system that is easy to follow and easy to sustain after I’m gone. Then finally, I gave two teachers and 10 student helpers training on running the library.
Now the library is open five days a week for two hours each day. Between 30 to 40 students visit the library each day to read, and students in grades 10, 11 and 12 can get a library card for the year and borrow one book for two weeks at a time. The most popular books are the Khmer fiction books and the English animal books.
The two librarians have told me time and time again how wonderful it is to see Cambodian students actually enjoying independent reading. They admitted to doubting me from the beginning but are thrilled to say they were wrong.
I could not be more proud of the students and the librarians as I completely step back and let them take over the library. This project has turned out even more successful than I had dared to hope, and the library will be catering to students and teachers for years to come.
Thank you to all the people who generously donated, who trusted in me as a project coordinator, and who cared about these students on the other side of the world.