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Archive for the ‘2007 January Trip’

Delivering the Letters

February 03, 2007 By: Kari Category: 2007 January Trip, General 2 Comments →

Phnom Penh: It’s been a whirlwind two days racing around the city delivering the letters to as many people as we can.

We visited with reporters at the Cambodia Daily, an English language newspaper, and Cambodge Soir, a French language newspaper. The later has a better reputation forKari delivering letters to Beehive Radio, an independent radio station. protecting its sources. The independent radio station, Beehive, suggested that a truckload of villagers come into Phnom Penh and stay at the Buddhist temple behind the station, so they will feel safe and can speak their hearts freely. The villagers must make that decision together and we need to garner some support before they do.

We delivered letters to the Voice of Democracy radio station, a project of the Cambodian

Kari delivering letters to Him Khortieth, reporter for Voice of Democracy Radio, a program of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

Center for Human Rights. The reporter, Him Khortieth, promised to coordinate his coverage of the story with Licadho, a human rights watchdog. Kari delivering villagers letters to Naly Pilorge, Director of Licadho (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights).My visit with Licadho Director, Naly Pilorge, was very important. She copied all the letters and is sending them to their lawyer stationed in Kampong Speu. This will give the villagers the back-up support they need to speak out with a human rights group watching.

The forest destruction has three levels. The illegal logging of big trees deep in the forest is for timber to be delivered to Vietnam. The smaller trees are cut down for wood sticks to be sold for cooking fuel in Phnom Penh by newcomers to the village from other provinces. These are the oxcart and wood truck drivers paying off the local authorities to pass with their loads. The forest fires are the third and final stage of deforestation to encroach ownership of the land and sell it to foreign companies for industrial agriculture purposes. Andre says that the forest soil is sandy, it needs the forest ecosystem to regenerate, and without the trees the soil will be infertile and useless for agriculture.

I thought about going to the Ministry of Environment with our letters but I remember when we passed the headquarters of the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary, administered by the Ministry of Environment, the official came to our vehicle for a bribe payment, mistaking our driver’s van for a wood truck. I don’t trust anyone involved with Cambodia’s ruling party, the CPP, an acronym for the Cambodian People’s Party; we’ve taken to calling it the Corrupt Peoples Party.

Kari delivering letters to Sopheng Cheang, a reporter for the Associated Press.The reporter at the Associated Press, SoPheng Cheang, told us the story was too small for their news organization; Andre responded, “have you heard of global warming?” The forest destruction in Cambodia affects the entire planet. Most importantly it affects Cambodia’s food source, the rivers and the soil. He listened for a while but I don’t know if we got through to him.

We met with a Member of Parliament from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Mr. Nuot Rumdol. He is very familiar with Aural and willing to advocate for our villagers within theKari delivering villagers letters to Nuth Rumduol, a member of Parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party. Parliamentary system. The best we can hope for is that the children’s drawings will stir some pity from the Ministers. Naly from Licadho cautioned us to keep our expectations low. My highest hope is that the children will see that they can write a letter and their voice will be heard.

Late in the day, I received a call from Washington D.C. The callers name was Khmera, a reporter with the Voice of America. Now, we’re getting somewhere!

Tomorrow morning we leave for the U.S. We’ll spend the next few months raising funds for the Abundant Forest training center at our school. A computer hub will give the students more direct access to information and their government, but it will also draw more students to our school. Then we will need a new building.

Be the Change
Spread the Word.

Book coverGo to www.BonesThatFloat.com to order pre-publication hardcover copies at a discount price of $20 (+tax & shipping).
25% of the proceeds benefit the Friends of the Grady Grossman School, Cambodia.

A link to an eBook is available with each order.
Autographed hardcover copies will be sent in March.
Regular price is $24.95 (+tax & shipping).

The root of the problem is ignorance.

February 02, 2007 By: Kari Category: 2007 January Trip, General No Comments →

Phnom Penh: The pressure of the forest destruction on the Chrauk Tiek community changed the focus of my visit.

I had come with the idea to talk about a new building, a new computer hub, more English instruction and a music class. The overwhelming need of the community to save their forest and stop the corrupt activities taking place everywhere both day and night required our full attention. It seems they have nowhere else to turn. The root of the problem is ignorance.

We will use our school to educate the community about the surrounding forest ecosystemMaster musician Em Nuot using music and drama. I found an 83-year-old unemployed master musician, Em Nuot, living in a hut nearby who plays the two stringed Tror Sau and Tror Ou, the bamboo flute, and the xylophone-like Takay. He wants to be our teacher. A blind man living with forest monks sings beautiful songs he wrote about he forest in traditional Khmer style. The two of them will make a great team.

I instructed the teachers that they must be the leaders to educate the adults about how they are being exploited. They must teach the students that paying bribes to break the law is wrong, that the example of the police and military and corrupt commune leaders is wrong. They must teach them how to decipher who is true and honest. They must teach them to think. I can give them the resources, but they have to learn to use their brains in a new way. The Cambodian style of rote learning only teaches them to copy, thus the cycle repeats itself. If we are to break the cycle of poverty and destruction, we must learn how to think creatively. I brought them a new computer, puzzles, Soduko, and Rubics cube to stretch their brains. The music will speak to the heart. The change will come slow and perhaps the forest will be gone by then. But we must fight.

Andre and I have returned to Phnom Penh with 117 letters from adult villagers, 128 letters with artwork from the students, and 48 from Souy villagers. Now I have to get them to as many media outlets as I can find. Access to the world of information networking is the best assistance I can offer them. I encourage everyone reading these posts who lives in the developed world to reach out and hold hands with the desperately poor and ignorant of the world. The work is hard. The reward is great.

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Spread the word.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

February 01, 2007 By: Kari Category: 2007 January Trip, General No Comments →

Lander, WY: I just spoke with Kari via Skype and she, Andre and Yoen have made it safely back to Phnom Penh. It is Thursday night there about 11:00pm and she sounded exhausted. She sent about 30 pictures, many of the forest destruction, but was too tired to write a report. She intends to write a new report in the morning so please check back.
Aural Wildlife Sanctuary on fire. Local mountains with haze in the air. Dead trees–the results of the logging. Local Forestry administration building. Oxcart carrying illegally logged trees from the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary Oxcart driver stops to pay a bribe. Woodyard. Wood stacked for cooking fuel. Woodyard. Another woodpile Monk walking amongst the trees. Students outside the gate of the Grady Grossman School Master musician Ta Kay Kari with several of the teachers at the Grady Grossman School Kari and Andre with community leaders outside the Grady Grossman School Kari receives a stack of letters protesting the illegal logging Student and her bike outside the Grady Grossman School

Be the change.
Spread the word.

Book coverGo to www.BonesThatFloat.com to order pre-publication hardcover copies at a discount price of $20 (+tax & shipping).
25% of the proceeds benefit the Friends of the Grady Grossman School, Cambodia.

A link to an eBook is available with each order.
Autographed hardcover copies will be sent in March.
Regular price is $24.95 (+tax & shipping).

Embarrassment may be the only weapon…

January 30, 2007 By: Kari Category: 2007 January Trip, General 1 Comment →

Chrauk Tiek/The Grady Grossman School: One by one they hand them to me, letters with pictures of the forest, the animals, the birds, fallen trees, muddy waters, dead animals. The children definitely know what is at stake for them. Tomorrow I will leave this village withKari collects the kids letters a pile of over 400 letters from children and community leaders. Forty-eight more letters are on their way from the Souy hill tribe villagers. Some people are afraid to sign their name; they live in fear of the corrupt police and military. But these letters are the beginning of a participatory democracy. Voice of America, CNN Asia, Cambodia Daily, The Phnom Penh Post, I promised to take their letters to show the international community the environmental crisis and concern of the local villagers. The proof is in their letters. I hope I have enough evidence to interest some reporters. Embarrassment may be the only weapon we have to get the government’s attention.

Last night Nou Noun, the deputy head of commune, invited villagers to the school to watch a No Noun and Kari Grady Grossmanvideo. The teachers set up the computer outside in the dark school yard. With power from a DC car battery, he showed his community the documentaries I brought, Voices from the Forest, Khmer Buddhist Forest Conservation Project, and Community Forestry International. Some people were quickly bored and left, but a small group of twenty, mostly women, stayed. It is a beginning. This is how it works in Cambodia; we plant the seed of a new idea and wait for it to spread.

In the morning I made a speech to our teachers, asking them to lead the education effort, especially with the adults. I can give them all the resources they need to educate, I can support the local efforts to protect the forest by bringing attention to their concerns; but I cannot do the thinking and the changing for them. We must solve the problem of student drop out. We have 92 children in first grade, 68 in second, 58 in third, 42 in fourth, 32 in fifth, and 16 in sixth. It seems that after the fourth grade children are big enough to help haul wood.

Once the teachers and students were off to their classrooms, we turned our attention to the charcoal briquettes, attempting to just introduce the concept and determine if theAndre, seated, discusses briquette making with Bun Vana and others. community might be interested in a training session. The response was overwhelmingly positive. They are desperate for an alternative and would start building a press tomorrow if we let them. As with any new technology, it’s important that the product be introduced to the market properly, not hodge-podge; they must prove to have a consistent, quality product offered at a competitive price. This will take some time to develop the skills, test, get feedback and make improvements. It’s not an overnight solution, but it’s the quickest alternative we have. Community leader Bun Vana asked me to come back as soon as possible to train the trainers from each village. “If the people have something different they can do,� he said, “then no reason to cut down the tree and more kids can stay in school.� That’s why I keep fighting; I want to see 92 students in the sixth grade.

The forest people have invited me to return in May for their annual ceremony to honor their forest ancestors. Ek Chun, the Souy group leader requested $50 worth of tin to finish the roof of their community building. I told him if I get 50 letters, they get fifty dollars. He’s been running around the village all afternoon, getting thumbprints onto letters.

We’ve been working so hard on the forest problems I’ve had little time to spend with the kids. Today after class everyone joined me in the library for a photo session with their letters; we broke out the play dough, puzzles, magnetix and leapfrog games. I sat with a group of boys instructing them in a game of word-recognition dominos. Squeals of laughter filled the room; they are so hungry to learn.

We can give the children the opportunity to stay in school only by giving their parentsMonk praying for fallen trees. diverse, alternative options to make a living, charcoal briquettes, agro-forestry and eco-tourism. Everything depends on stopping the forest destruction and the corrupt governance tied to it. Everything depends on those letters.

Be the Change.

Please buy Bones That Float, A Story of Adopting Cambodia and Spread the Word.

Book coverGo to www.BonesThatFloat.com to order pre-publication hardcover copies at a discount price of $20 (+tax & shipping). 25% of the proceeds benefit the Friends of the Grady Grossman School, Cambodia.

A link to an eBook is available with each order.
Autographed hardcover copies will be sent in March. Regular price is $24.95 (+tax & shipping).

Voice of the Children

January 29, 2007 By: Kari Category: 2007 January Trip, General No Comments →

Chrauk Tiek/The Grady Grossman School: This morning the children are busy working Students at the Grady Grossman School.on their letters. They’re creating vibrant drawings with colored pencils and glitter glue under a neatly printed heading in Khmer script “Please Don’t Destroy My Future, Don’t Cut Down The Trees,� signed with name and age. We hope that the voice of the children will touch the heart of the Minister of Environment to do something. Often the smoke is so thick it stings everyones eyes.

After the clay pot piñatas were broken yesterday, we squashed into the back of a woodThe ecomonk, Prom Thommacheat, walking through the forest. truck with a hundred children and drove to the “stream water,â€? a narrow pinch of creek between large granite boulders that make a great slide. “Moi dong diet,â€? a girl in blue pants said as she grabbed my hand, one more time. I probably slid down the rock with her 10 times; she could have kept going all day long. When I sat to rest on the rock several girls joined me, to get warm and be close. I reflected on the monk, Prom Thommacheat’s, words at the school meeting that morning. He preached to the children they must regard me as their own parent. I wonder if the changes over the next 5 years will be as drastic as the last 5; will they be change for the better or change for the worse. I must stay committed.

I told the parents during the school meeting, when I think about the future for their children and grandchildren, with all the trees gone, it makes me cry. They will be more poor and my hard work to fund this school will be useless if they destroy their future now. They can make the choice to stop. Take the case of Sok Sarith, the man with the noodle shop.

Two years ago, I took a letter from the community leader Bun Vanna to the Voice of America detailing the villagers complaint about the illegal logging. A few days laterRice noodle mill helicopters landed in the schoolyard and confiscated many chainsaws and burnt out the sawmill where Sok Sarith worked. At first he was angry but he knew he was guilty. He made a choice to change and stared planting fruit trees and making noodles. The rice is ground into flour then mixed with water to form a white dough. The dough is set in a mold and pushed with a lever through a noodle press, and the strings descended into a pot of boiling water. He uses bark, dead wood, and scrap for the cooking fire. His home is like a forest garden with many different kinds of fruit trees, with a little advice and water saving techniques he could easily increase production. He changed, others can too.

Andre displayed a map of Cambodia and explained to the parents how a watershed works. Souy family living near the Grady Grossman SchoolSome didn’t want to hear it and left, but many were interested and stayed. The monk, Prom Thommacheat asked, “to stop cutting the tree from today, what can the people do to feed their family tomorrow?� Good question. Our Abundant Forest project is a long range plan, but the need is immediate.

We started to discuss a micro-loan program to give people, especially women tending their land, the opportunity to start a new small business, like noodle making. Here is the leverage point, loans will only be available to those not involved or chosing to leave the wood trade. The idea holds promise. We need to research best practices from Bangladesh’s Nobel Peace Prize winning Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank.

1st graders playing with play dough at the Grady Grossman SchoolThis morning while the older children worked on their letters, the first grade class joined me in the library for a play dough lesson. Luckily, I had brought enough so everyone could try. It was amazing to watch them explore something totally new, an array of animals and cooking implements were constructed. There were a lot of radiant smiles.

These children are magical. I am asking them to be the leaders to save their forest. They deserve a better life.

Be the change.
Spread the word.