Library Project at Romchek Primary School ~ Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia 

Working on alongside Ponheary Ly Foundation in Cambodia, WaterBridge Outreach has financed the  construction and equipping of a library for Romchek Primary School in Preah Vihear Province. The library building is two stories and, with the school rapidly growing with 235+ students in grades K - 6, the ground floor provides much needed additional classroom space.

What is different about this library deployment is that the community pulled together the lumber and labor for the construction of the actual building, leaving it to PLF to locate and train a librarian, build furniture, and of course bring in loads of books and activities for the students. Construction of the building was completed before the COVID pandemic hit and we were fortunate that, even though everyone was sheltering in place from March onwards and schools were closed, the carpentry work building the furniture (desks, bookcases, chairs, etc.) for the library was mostly unaffected. The furniture maker had a family-run business and they all live together on-site in a village just outside Siem Reap. They were very happy to have work to do while other business was at a standstill.

Permission was received from authorities to reopen Romcheck library in June 2020 with updated hygiene rules to keep students and librarians safe. For many students, the libraries have been a lifeline to keeping them engaged with learning since their study hours have been so shortened. Each grade has an allotted time each week to come in groups of 10. Luckily, all our librarians are also our school nurses and also manage hygiene. They are right on top of the handwashing protocols and everything that needs to happen to ensure book lending a safe activity for both the students and the staff.  Attendance over that time has been consistent, with students choosing week after week to come trade in their books for new ones. What’s been most exciting is seeing more and more of the older students developing reading habits. For example, Grade 6 at Romchek have gone from one of the least engaged readers to the most enthused at their school. PLF had to update their inventories with more and more young adult fiction to keep up with these newly voracious readers!

The Ponheary Ly Foundation promotes access to public educational opportunities and the health and well-being of children and young people in Cambodia. They have spent the last couple of years finely tuning their libraries at all primary school locations in an effort to put in the exact literacy supports necessary to ignite a fire in young readers and give space for them to build a lifelong love of reading. The primary school libraries are in areas of the country where all forms of education were lost during the Genocide of the late 1970’s.

The costs for the Romchek Library were primarily all in the start up. Ongoing costs will be minimal, as the library will fold into an already existing “Book Rotation Scheme” wherein books arrive every 2 weeks to Library #1, pushing out older books to Library #2, which pushes out their oldest books to Library #3 and so on. In this scheme 1500 students have access to the same $2 book. We are deeply inspired by the dedication of this community for this dream of having a fully functioning library at their school and are dedicated to doing our part to help them achieve this goal. We look forward to 2021 when we will be working PLF again to equip the High School Library at the New Learning Center at Srayang.