Friday, March 26, 2010

Our Books Reach Cambodia

(Ashok Kamath, Trustee - Pratham Books, writes about his trip to Cambodia and about our books now being read by kids in Cambodia)

Last week, my wife and I took off for four days to visit Angkor Wat ( largest temple in the world and a World Heritage site) in Cambodia. As always on a trip, I carry Pratham Books to give away to children that I meet and this trip was no different.

Cambodia, like India, is a poor country and they have had their share of bad luck starting from the Vietnam days to the days of Pol Pot who is credited for having masterminded a genocide that took 2 million lives (out of 14 million). It is an incredibly horrid story - most bookshops in Siam Reap (the town that is closest to the temples) carry books that are devoted to how this genocide was done. And then you see people who have been maimed by land mines.

In the midst of all this, the bright sparks are inevitably the little children. All over the place, across three days we saw dozens of children between 3-10 years of age all imploring us to buy the stack of picture postcards - ten of them for “one dollah” so that they could use the money to go school. I asked our guide why the same story and he said they were all taught by the same people.

We got into a conversation with one of them - her name was Pot and here is a picture of little Pot who was delighted to get a book from us. Pot is about 6 years old and was selling some prayer beads. She goes to school in the mornings and does her bit selling stuff in the afternoons and she loves reading. Her eyes lit up as she saw “We are All Animals” and quietly and with dignity she was hoping I would give her the book and when I did give it to her, she was thrilled.

There were many other children who we met and gave some books. In most places they forgot they were selling and started to ask us to show the books and they got engrossed in the book. So, finally we had to give them a book each.

Finally, on the last day, we went to a primary school and on the doorway to a classroom I saw the board “ 4th Grade / 6th Grade” and I said to myself “ here’s the local form of multi-grade classrooms”. But I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the guide tell me that because of a shortage of teachers the schools run in two shifts and that is why the board shows two different grades. Each shift is for about 4 hours and apparently this works well. I spoke to the teacher (who knew very little English) and then left a handful of books for their school library. He was very grateful and also pushed to enquire if I would consider sponsoring more stuff in his school.

All in all, Pratham Books in its English language editions is now in Cambodia - think of it as the next Indian invasion after we sent our temple folklore to them in around 1000 CE.

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