Information Exchange
By: Jon Bugge.Photos Courtesy of Lor Chandara ( August, 2002 Volume 2 No.8 )

September 8th marks World Literacy Day. The old adage of knowledge being power is no more apparent than within the kingdom. It is in the oldest province, dubbed the cradle of Khmer civilization, in which a bridge has been built. This bridge is not a road bridge but rather a bridge between rural and urban Cambodia. The bridge is in the form of the Angsoeng Library (formerly known as the Takeo Rural Media Library). While the rest of the world takes freedom and access to information, as an accepted part of life, in rural Cambodia it is not that easy. This was the catalyst for the founder of the library: Lor Chandara (LC). LC is the Associate Editor at the Cambodia Daily; he was convinced that he could give other Cambodians a chance by giving them access to information. He has since sacrificed time, money and energy to realize his dream. When asked about the importance such an institution can play, he replied: "An education is one of the most powerful weapons against poverty and libraries are an important part of any education." The library has more than 1,500 books and magazines. They have amassed this collection through donations, both locally and from overseas. The concept of supply and demand is put into practice in the library. LC points out: "Since the commune council elections on February 3rd, the demand for information on how to make democracy work has soared. " As a result, they have gathered a sizable amount of reference books on electoral education, electoral law and human rights.
" If knowledge is power then education, or learning, is the foundation of that knowledge and power. A library is a source of learning, education, knowledge and therefore power. A better educated population is more informed, more empowered and more able to assert their democratic rights." LC emphasizes, when asked about the role of this grass roots education and it impact amongst the population. It is also allowing Takeo to keep abreast of current affairs. LC relates the reaction after the September 1th terrorist attacks: "Of course many people were curious about the attacks." The library collected newspaper articles on the events and pictures of Osama Bin Laden. The idea as LC puts it: "As we did hang [up] the picture of Pol Pot. We want to show people about how comparatively horrifying both killers were." The library was opened in May 4th 2001, from then until June the following year the library has received a staggering 19,325 visitors. On average about thirty people visit the library a day. The total amount is more than double the population of the commune in which the library stands. The standards are rudimentary but there are plans to expand. The main aim is a reading campaign and a mobile library program. Their staff are mainly volunteers and they aim to be able to afford to employ a librarian and guard in the near future. They are hoping to increase the amount of Khmer literature within their collection. To compensate for the amount of English language books available, the library has began teaching English and started this project six months ago. The benefits within the commune and further a field are greatly encouraging. More and more people are becoming familiar with the idea of a library and using it to enrich their lives. One such case study draws this point home.

Sim Sophorn witnessed the killing of his father at the age of ten. He then became the family's breadwinner. He managed to still attend school but never had the opportunity to read books for pleasure. He is now 18 years old and lives with his widowed mother and siblings. He discovered the library and began reading books and working there two months ago. He is now the library assistant and helps local children learn English. His love of books and excitement are reward enough. Sim says: "I enjoy reading books here, this library is helping me explore the world outside my village through good books and pictures." There are many more tales of the fulfillment and enrichment of the local's lives through the work of Lor Chandara. He says that although he does not have plans to set up similar libraries in other provinces he: "would like to encourage other organizations and individuals to build more libraries and learning centers in isolated areas of the country. I'm sure the rural Cambodians are really hungry for knowledge and education."
Teaching the habit of reading is important. This is not a native practice and is one that needs to be nurtured and encouraged. It is this way that will lead the people into the 21st century and beyond. In this way the library acts as a bridge between those who can access such information within the urban centers of the country and those who have little or no access to such information. LC is optimistic:" I can say our people would no longer live in isolation like a frog in a well, where it is just surrounded by darkness and debased by ignorance."
To make a donation, or to find out more, contact Lor Chandara, P.O. Box 27, #50B St 240 Phnom Penh, or call 012-924-463, alternatively email:,