Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"
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Archive for December, 2007

A Like Minded Monk, Be Still My Jetlagged Mind

December 29, 2007 By: karig2 Category: 2008 January Trip, General 2 Comments →

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Our adventure to sustainability begins with a blessing from a like minded monk.Djekun Sarith with Kari Grady Grossman and children Grady and Shanti Venerable Brak Sareth called on the first day of our arrival, anxious to meet. He’d read our website and recognized a kindred spirit. His homegrown organization, Raise and Support the Poor, also runs a school in Kampong Speu province, where Life Skills are taught in a free after school program adjacent to the government school. He’s providing training in several foreign languages, computer skills, sewing, moto repair and bicycle repair to 345 impoverished students, 66 of whom are parent less – orphaned by AIDS. We are on the same wavelength.

Sareth found me because his mother read my book. She bought Bones That Float at a fundraiser auction for the Angkor Dance Company in Massachusetts. Apparently, his family was impressed with both the meaning of the book and it’s intent to support the rural poor. And that’s how I found myself inside the inner sanctum of Aronnavati Pagoda in Phnom Penh, in a monk’s dorm room, discussing the weakness of the Cambodian education system with a bald man in a saffron robe as if he is my brother. It’s a small world after all.

Djekun Sarith attaches good luck bracelet to KariWe left the pagoda with a long red thread wrapped around each of our wrists, our faces sprinkled with holy water, as a family blessed for success with our project.

I’ll take the blessings from wherever they come. My jetlagged brain spends the sleepless hours of the night mulling over every possible detail that could go wrong with this project. Our biggest problem is the condition of the road. As usual, the transportation of illegal logs by oxcart and wood truck during the rainy season have destroyed the road. Although it is well into the dry season, the government still has not fixed it. This presents a challenge to the idea of producing briquettes in the village for sale in the city. How will we transport them in a cost effective manner? Even the 4 wheel drive passenger vehicles want to charge $150 per day because of the damage potential. The eighty kilometer trip is likely to take 6 hours.

My worries began to subside today when Sanu Kaji arrived from Nepal with his technician, who is, by coincidence, also called Sanu Kaji. Sanu 1 is a well educated man who delights in empowering the poor. His eyes twinkle when he talks of briquettes. Everywhere he looks, he sees waste materials we can use as raw materials. He brought some sample briquettes and a simple demonstration stove. George was carrying them when we walked into a restaurant for lunch which drew significant attention to this simple little device. One patron recognized Sanu from the BBC World Challenge broadcast and the restaurant owner was very anxious to try our product. Even the neighboring restaurateur handed us his card expressing interest in the briquettes and stove. Apparently the price of cooking gas and wood is hitting everyone hard. We have a promising level of local demand for the product we hope to produce.

But here is the catch. It would be more cost effective and just as easy to produce them right here in the city. The reason we are taking the training to our school in Cardamom Mountains is because that is where the trees are being chopped down. We want to empower villagers with alternative livelihoods to support our school and increase attendance. If this were purely a business decision, we would set up a production facility in the city using the city’s own paper waste as our raw materials. If we are successful, eventually the forces of competition will figure this out. How do we create a business model that aligns with our mission to support rural schools?

Ready for Take Off…Flying Through the Night with Santa

December 24, 2007 By: Kari Category: 2008 January Trip, General 1 Comment →

Kari, Grady, Shanti and George GrossmanIt’s Christmas Eve and my family is all packed up and ready to take off for Cambodia. It’s our first time bringing the kids, and Grady’s first trip back. He’s 7. He is so excited and proud to see the Grady Grossman School. Shanti, 3, is just excited to wheel her new princess backpack around the airport.

Santa sent a magical Elf called Hermie to our house on Friday night…yes, the Grossman children still believe. Santa says he cannot reach the children in Cambodia without them. They are proud to be doing the true work of Christmas. I am proud to be their mom.

I want to wish everyone a very Joyous Holiday Season ! And give my Gratitude to everyone who has supported me this year, buying books, spreading the word, hosting events, sending donations.

Since publishing of Bones That Float on April 17, 2007, we have sold more than 2,000 copies, and we have raised over $30,000 for the Grady Grossman School!

Stay tuned to this blog to follow the story of how this money is spent. We will try to update 3 times a week, technology willing.

There will be plenty of opportunity to participate and help us figure out how to make a rural Cambodian school sustainable and self-supporting, which is, in my opinion, the only way Cambodia can dig itself out of the mess it is in. Maybe we will find an answer that can spread to other schools…that is my dream.

A Thought for 2008…

“Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
Italian friar, founder of the Franciscan order

Wishing you Happiness and Prosperity in 2008!

Kari, George, Grady and Shanti Grossman

World Challenges

December 18, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

Sanu KajiOur sustainability plans for the Grady Grossman School are quite coincidentally at the cutting edge of international development. Sanu Kaji Shresthra, our alternative cooking fuel expert, has just won the runner up prize in World Challenge 2007, sponsored by BBC World, Newsweek and the Shell Corporation for his work introducing biomass briquettes and solar cookers to urban and rural poor in Nepal.

World Challenge Award for Sanu Kaji Shresthra

According to Sandra Wijnvelt, who collected the award for Sanu in The Hague, because of the media coverage, Sanu is now getting requests from all over the world to share his expertise. As luck would have it, we’ve been working with Sanu for months, and the Grady Grossman School is the first place outside Nepal he will bring his expertise. Together, we are the first to introduce this low cost, appropriate technology to Cambodia. Makes me feel like we are on the right track.

“Thanks to the exposure in Newsweek and on BBC World Sanu has already received more than a dozen request from countries in Africa, Asia, South America and even in the Pacific of people and organizations who now want to replicate FoST’s technologies, projects and ideas! This month Sanu Kaji Shrestha is invited to Cambodia to teach his skills and share is knowledge with a school. And this is only the beginning…

For us this is a dream come true, because now Sanu can help the Nepalese rural and urban poor, while protecting the environment, but he can share his work with the rest of the world who are facing the same daily struggles and hardships in life. FoST’s solutions to these global problems are so simple and cheap, but highly effective. This small Nepalese organization is becoming an example to many countries in the world.

– Sandra Wijnveldt, GORP Productions”

To see Sandra’s video of Sanu’s work in Nepal Click here.

To read the article about the 3 World Challenge finalists, find a copy of the Dec. 17th issue of Newsweek. (Unfortunately, the article is not posted on their website – argh!)

To see how we apply this technology in Cambodia. Stay tuned to this blog!

We now have 150 students sponsored for 3 years in our sustainability challenge. Keep the donations coming!

Temples and Teachers

December 12, 2007 By: Kari Category: General No Comments →

Meet my Khmer teachers, Djekun Thach Soeur and Djekun Sovann, Kari, Monk Sovann and Monk Thach Souer at Denver Templeboth Theraveda Buddhist monks running a Cambodian Buddhist temple in the Asian district of Denver, Colorado. The temple is a converted row house on an inner city block behind a housing project, serving the spiritual and community needs of Denver’s small Cambodian refugee/immigrant community. As such, the monks host an array of festivals to draw together the community on significant days of the Buddhist calendar, conveniently shifted to the nearest Sunday to accommodate American work schedules. In keeping with Cambodian tradition, the monks serve the dual role of educators and fundraisers. I feel a remarkable kinship with these saffron cloaked gentlemen.

The monks offer Khmer language classes for the community. My husband and I are the only ones who show up regularly. For months I’ve been trying to master the outrageous phonic combinations of 36 consonants and 23 vowels. Progress is slow but steady.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, class was delayed by the Monk Robe festival, 200 community members turned out to honor the monks with gifts of new robes, incense, candles, and the other necessities of running a temple. The chanting of prayers and parade of goods around the temple grounds where followed by a typical Cambodian feast of spiced coconut milk dishes, exotic veges and rice noodles – a spread to put any of the Asian Buffets on Federal Avenue to shame.

Most impressive was the amount of money raised, $11,000 dollars toward capital improvements. Wow. When you consider the limited resources of an immigrant community, there is clearly a strong cultural current from the old country at work here. It got me thinking. Perhaps we can apply this model to the sustainability program at the Grady Grossman School?

For instance, we have sent a food stipend to our teachers every month for 5 years in an effort to stop teacher absenteeism. We also built them a 4 room house, so they wouldn’t have to sleep on the cement floor of the school. This support has worked tremendously well in keeping our teachers accountable to our student’s academic progress. But, admittedly, it is an inefficient use of funds. The logistics of getting the food to them, without it being pilfered, is costly. One the of key points of our sustainability plan is to support teachers.

In the old days, before the French Protectorate birthed a government school system, temples served as the main educational institutions. Even the poorest Cambodian communities are accustomed to supporting their monks through charitable giving. And school directors are often judged by how “active” they are at raising funds from the community for capital improvements. Could we encourage this idea to support teachers? Local control is the foundation of a sustainable system. We have over 485 families in Chrauk Tiek, if each one donated a condensed milk can worth of rice per month, would that keep the teachers fed?

Stay tuned to hear how this idea is received. I’ll be there in two weeks.