If elephants can't read, why did we build a library in rural Cambodia?
When you want to help wild elephants, helping the children that reside in wild-elephant habitat can help shift a past of conflict toward a future of coexistence. We built a library in a school that had absolutely no books, bringing options and choices to the children and their teachers.
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The Heart of Putrom 2 Primary School
Putrom 2 was severely lacking the most basic supplies, and yet the children there are the ones who will one day either deplete or conserve Cambodia’s remaining elephant habitat. Although people from around the world help change the future for wild and captive elephants, in the end, it will be up to the children who live among them, and as anywhere, education is key.
As we began our support of Mondulkiri’s Elephant Valley Project (supplying equipment for removing snares from sanctuary land and the surrounding forest), we met the local ethnic minority population of the Bunong, longtime “elephant people” near the border of Vietnam. In rural Cambodia, most people still grow up without access to ongoing education. and in November 2017 we created the sustainable project of “Elephants Can’t Read”.
Each year we continue to supply over 130 children and their teachers with satchels stuffed to the brim with school necessities, and tending the library we built in 2018, the very first Lending Library of its kind in the entire commune.
A Library needs a Teacher
Any sustainable project in rural Cambodia is fraught with unforeseen challenges, but what drove us forward were the unforeseen miracles! And here’s one — Meet Savoun!
Savoun was a teacher in Putrom for 7 years before falling out of a tree harvesting honey and breaking his back in 2015. Thanks to the generous and steadfast efforts of ELIE, Savoun was able to receive the surgery and extensive health care that saved his life. Now thanks to the Heart of Ganesh library, Savoun is employed once again, back in the classroom, and teaching in the new wheelchair-accessible library!
Even after building and stocking the library, one tremendous hurdle remained: the funding and building of a very long path! During monsoon season, pushing a wheelchair through the thick clay mud became an impossibility, so we built a rather extraordinary path! From the front door of his home, across the street, through the easement of 2 farms, traversing the broad school field, and finally ending at the door of his classroom and library, this was no small feat! But the only way forward is through, so through we went!
The first day Mr. Savouen wheeled his chair to his new library (and his new life), we were all in tears, and the blessing ceremony with the village chief afterward sealed the deal: Miracles happen when you don’t give up.