Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"

Archive for October, 2007

Keeping the Faith

October 26, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

I’m out on the road again, this time taking our mission for education in Cambodia to audiences in Philadelphia, PA, Bethesda, MD, North Haven, CT, Albany, NY, Boston, MA, and George Mason University, VA. All of these events have been organized by inspired readers of my book, Bones That Float, A Story of Adopting Cambodia, who feel that its message needs to spread. I am deeply honored by their personal commitment to our message of sustainability, education, social justice and faith. What a way to do a book tour! This is one of those reassuring moments, when I feel glad I turned down a publisher a year ago and decided to go it alone. I like getting people involved in our movement.

It’s a lot of work promoting a book on your own, but I keep the faith that the hundreds of people I talk to at these presentations will become inspired to take action. Because, my friends, it is going to take action to end poverty and oppression in this world. One-to-one relationship building, that’s what grassroots is all about, and I’m a grassroots kind of girl. I believe in people.

And then something like this comes in from Mother Jones, an article entitled Did I Steal My Daughter?, penned by an adoptive mother of a child from Guatemala. Guatemala is about to follow Cambodia down the aisle of countries closed to adoption by the US government due to accusations of corruption. Cambodia holds the distinction of being the first. One of the posted comments suggests reading Bones That Float, an excellent example of these issues fully explored. I’m proud of that, because the reader who made the comment is not an adoptive parent.

I wrote Bones That Float because I needed to examine the conditions in contemporary Cambodia that create both the child care crisis and corruption. When we adopted out son Grady, I read every book I could find about Cambodia, and I bought 20 copies of the war memoir First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung, and made my entire family read it. After going there and starting a school, I wanted a book that would tie that war history to the conditions of the present day, and there weren’t any. So I wrote one. My book remains the only one I know of to tie Cambodia’s war 30 years ago to the present state of affairs. The journey is summed up in the title “Bones That Float,” a phrase that came to me from my son’s birthmother, to describe his good fortune, to have bones that rise above suffering and float away.

The New School Year Begins!

October 16, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

From 9 to 11 pm last night, I sat in my Colorado office talking to our school director, Ngim So Bun, in Cambodia, using the voice over internet software, Skype. Our two hour conversation was completely free. I hope that Skype will one-day become the tool to facilitate a web based English tutoring program at our school. But this is a first world dream. In seven years of sponsoring a school in Cambodia, I have learned one firm lesson – listen to the people I am serving. So I listened, and So Bun talked, and my dreams of a computer lab deflated. Right now cooking fuel is more important than computers.

We begin the 2007-2008 school year with 435 students enrolled, and another 73 who have not shown up yet. Why? Because their parents cannot afford to send them. They either live too far away or they need their children to work. They work chopping down trees to sell cooking fuel to Phnom Penh. We have 129 students enrolled for 1st class and 25 enrolled for 6th class. Fourteen have enrolled to attend the secondary school 4km down the road. I’ll be surprised if half of them finish the first year. Our student enrollment figures confirm that 80% of rural children do not complete a primary education, in keeping with the UNESCO statistics for the region.

Cambodia is much like the United States was 100 years ago, when most of the economy was agricultural, and most people did not attend school past 6th grade. I’ve learned to lower the bar of my first world expectations. Building the foundation of an educated society begins with universal primary education. When you put the opportunity for education in the hands of a few, you seat power in the hands of a few. And that is exactly the urban-rural dynamic that fueled the disastrous communist revolution known as the Khmer Rouge in the first place. Educating the rural poor is our priority.

For a sobering reminder of why our work is necessary, take a look at the status of our 6 Khmer teachers who are provided by the ministry of education. Five return for another year with the addition of a second female teacher, Cheang Van Neath, newly graduated from the teacher training center. The salary provided by the government for our experienced teachers is $38 per month, the school director receives $40, and the new teacher receives $15. If Cheang Van Neath can survive on that for a year, she will receive a $250 supplement from the government at the completion of her 10 month contract. The $25 per month food stipend we send to each teacher helps to curb the national trend of teacher absenteeism and collection of “informal payments” from students, as described in the Encyclopedia of Modern Asia on

“The country’s teachers, who are grossly underpaid, have resorted to charging their students unofficial fees. Many are spending less time in the classroom as they seek additional employment elsewhere. Almost 20 percent of students in urban areas, and 26 percent in rural areas, have repeated at least one grade at school. From every one thousand students who begin primary school, only twenty-seven will graduate from upper secondary school. Girls, students from remote areas, and the poor are all grossly underrepresented in education statistics. With these significant problems as a backdrop, and the school-age population continuing to grow, the Cambodian government still denies the education sector the funding it needs to realize its important role in Cambodian society.”

Our 83-year old music teacher, Em Luot, suffered a setback with his rheumatism in September, exacerbated by the school director’s decision to withhold his salary since July. Why? Because he needed to pay for the new gate to keep the cows out of the schoolyard – they were eating the flowers!

Routine operating expenses and development activities are supposed to be funded by the “priority action program. ” But the government was more than 4 months behind on delivering “pap” funds, the cows were despoiling the school yard, and Em Luot’s salary was the only cash available .

We told director So Bun not to borrow teacher’s salaries to fill the shortcomings of his government – that’s what we’re for! We need Em Luot healthy and working to prepare his music students for their big debut in the marketplace to deliver our conservation message and demonstrate cooking fuel briquettes.

Imagine if your child’s school was subject to such incalculable whims. Would you place much faith in education?

As our Abundant Forest Life Skills Training Center develops, we hope it will empower the Chrauk Tiek community with both the income and local control to steer their own educational destiny. We want every child to complete a primary education and for teachers to earn a salary they can live on.

Stay Tuned…

Please support our efforts and become a Friend to the Grady Grossman School in Cambodia.

Kari on KOMO-TV (ABC) in Seattle

October 09, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

I was invited to talk about our school in Cambodia on the ABC-TV affiliate in Seattle, Washington. KOMO-TV’s Northwest Afternoon show was most interested in hearing about how “one person really can make a difference.”

I received this email from a Cambodian American viewer after the show….

“I was thrilled to have been home on Monday and have watched you on the NW Afternoon show. It was inspiring. I’m honor that you have chosen to adopt a Cambodian baby…how awesome is that. Your son is so blessed to have you. I’m Cambodian and came to the U.S. in the early 80’s. I’m very proud of you and what you have accomplished and in opening up your heart to the other side of the world and all that you have done for the Cambodian people.” Thank you, Sreytouch Ryser – Seattle

On Bones That Float: A response from a Cambodian American reader…

“Thank you for the inspirational story. I felt myself being part of Maly’s life. Her story is very similar to mine. It was as if I was reading about my life. It has always been my dream to write and to let many know what I and millions of Cambodian went through during the Khmer Rouge time. I feel the need to educate many about what war does to the spirit of human beings. I see so much violence and hatred among people and it is becoming more and more so. I just want to thank you for your powerful words in your book. I am grateful for your being to help the people of Cambodia. I wish I could only find the strength like you.” Thank you, Chanda Luker – Maine

It’s an honor to hear from the people who lived it, that I got it right….embed>

What Does Cooking Fuel Have To Do With Education?

October 02, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

Last year, the Grady Grossman School had 92 kids in first grade, yet only 16 graduated from sixth. Fifty percent student drop-out begins in third grade because at 8 or 9 years old, children are needed to work. In the commune of Trapeang Chhor, where the Grady Grossman School is located, that means chopping down trees. 1.5 million people in the capital city of Phnom Penh cook with wood sticks. Currently, Trapeang Chhor is the largest source of these cooking sticks. Hardwood trees chopped up for cooking fuel is annihilating the forest, funding a culture of corruption, depleting the water source of the entire country, and keeping children out of school. In Trapeang Chhor, cooking fuel has everything to do with education.

Our goal is for every child to complete a primary education through 6th grade.Rather than build a secondary school which few could afford to attend, we’ve decided to make primary school attendance more economically feasible with a vocational training center where sustainable, income-generating skills are learned. Since students only attend school half the day, we intend to utilize the other half of the day to teach valuable life skills. The first project of The Abundant Forest Life Skills Training Center will address cooking fuel.

Cambodia needs an alternative. Who better than the children of Trapeang Chhor commune (aka Timber Town) to lead the way!

The Legacy Foundation, an Oregon based engineering development organization, has devised an ingenious solution to the cooking fuel problem in many poor regions of the world where natural resource depletion is taking it’s toll. Biomass briquettes are created from dead material collected from the ground: dead leaves, rice husks, saw dust, and even waste paper can become the raw material for a highly efficient and low cost cooking fuel.

Click here to watch a short video of the process.

Sanu Kaji with BriquettesThrough the worldwide network of fuel briquette-rs we found Sanu Kaji, the Nepalese director of Foundation for Sustainable Technologies. Sanu brought briquette technology to Katmandu during a cooking fuel shortage and is now having success converting poor villages to sustainability. He is a finalist on World Challenge 2007, a worldwide competition that rewards people who “truly make aSanu Kaji difference through enterprise and innovation at a grass roots level.” We’re excited to welcome Sanu Kaji to the Grady Grossman School. In December, we will begin the briquette training under Sanu’s guidance.Our next challenge will be to get people to buy our briquettes in the marketplace rather than wood sticks.

Stay tuned to this blog to find out how we intend to do that!

Do you have ideas or input that may help us achieve our goal?