Wat Damnak is one of my favourite places on earth.  It is a an expanse of land on the east side of the Siem Reap River housing the wat, a school, an NGO which teaches poor women to sew, a dormitory for the monks, and the Center for Khmer Studies.
The Center is dedicated to promoting and preserving research into all things Cambodian. It provides fellowships for scholars, a research library for professional writers and academics, and a library for local students.  It is a place which clearly ticks all my boxes.  It is tranquil and beautiful and inspiring. (Spoiler alert: readers of Out of the Ruins will find themselves there. How could I not put it into the book?).
The administration of the Center had felt that something was missing, though, and that was a library dedicated to younger children. I had discussed this with the Director last year and when I returned this year, I was pleased to see that a special, separate library had indeed been established, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. So this Saturday I will be reading to a group of children. I will read a picture book about a crocodile and a mouse.  The children will range between 8 and 12 years old, so finding a book with simple language but an engaging story that isn’t too childish was a bit of a challenge. But I think this one will work well. After I read the book to them, I will lead a discussion in English about the book (with the help of the Khmer Librarian), and then the kids will make bookmarks showing their own ideas about the story. The Library will then laminate the bookmarks and the kids will be able to take them home.
Reading for pleasure is not a part of this culture. Of course it isn’t. Anyone who could read  was killed by the Khmer Rouge back in the 1970’s, so for today’s children there is no role model for that sort of leisure activity. Of course, learning to read for pleasure is crucial in a child’s development — their use of language, critical thinking, imagination. In the States and the UK, I know there have been many “Reading Can Be Fun” ventures. It’s wonderful that the Center for Khmer Studies and I can now Unknowndo our bit to promote this here in Siem Reap, as well.