Saturday, 22 March 2008

Former Summit residents inspire students

After adopting their son from Cambodia, the Grossmans started a school there

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
March 21, 2008

FARMER’S KORNER — Every day Kari Grady Grossman sees a sweet face of Cambodia starring back at her. She and her husband, George, adopted their son from the country, and it was the fateful trip to get him that led them to their calling of empowering a community for a brighter future.

Grossman is the author of “Bones That Float,” a memoir about adopting her son and then a village in Cambodia, intertwined with the story of survival from a native Cambodian woman. And this week, she spoke to a couple classes at Summit High School, sharing her personal story along with a short documentary and discussion.

In addition to raising awareness about Cambodia, Grossman’s presentation was one of the ways the students — sophomores in the Middle Years International Baccalaureate Programme — were exposed to community service and how a grassroots effort can be an effective catalyst for change.

A school is born

The Grossmans adopted Grady, who is now 7, in 2001. Completely taken by the country where he was born, they decided to create a school in his name by the highest mountain. However, what they realized is, simply building a school is not enough because without continued support it could become just a building.

Today, the school that started with 50 students educates 500 up through sixth grade.

In this rural area in the village of Chrauk Tiek, teachers had to travel from far away and therefore didn’t show up consistently or ended up sleeping on the school’s concrete floors. So the Grossmans started a non-profit organization, built housing for the teachers and provided a stipend to help them. Also, they hired three additional teachers, an English and computer teacher, a music teacher and a librarian, whom they pay instead of receiving the about $30 a month from the government. And now they are “giving in a way that’s empowering,” by trying to invent a model for the community to self-support the school, Grossman said.

“You’ve got to think of education and economic development hand in hand,” she added.

Kari and George Grossman, who met while living in Summit County in the early 90s, lived in Wyoming for a number of years and recently moved to Fort Collins with their son, Grady, and daughter, Shanti, 3, whom they adopted from India.

In 2002, the U.S. closed adoptions to Cambodia, Grossman explained to the Summit High students when asked if she was going to adopt more children from the country.

Teaching a community

Where the Grady Grossman School exists, illegal logging is a serious problem, Grossman explained. Wood is commonly used for cooking over open fires, but by cutting down the forest, the country’s water source is impacted because trees with large roots hold in water during the monsoon season and then release it.

So, combing this issue with trying to empower people, they are teaching the locals how to create alternative cooking fuel — a biomass briquette that can be made from the mounds of sawdust left from the illegal logging or from rice husk, dead leaves or coconut peel, Grossman said. It burns almost as hot as charcoal, she added, before passing around the briquette that was a bit larger than palm-sized with a hole in the middle.

The briquettes would be a way families could earn money, trees could be saved and children could stay in school, Grossman said.

Working kids

When Cambodian children are about 15 or 16, they are needed to contribute to the family income, she explained. Also, about 80 percent of the children do not finish primary school (through sixth grade) because at age 10 they often do agricultural work.

Still, a hurdle the Grossmans are working to jump is the distrust people have for each other. After the torturous, devastating reign of Khmer Rouge and multiple decades of war, survival mode is what they know.

In this country where people generally make less than $1 a day, oppression and fear is part of daily life, she said. However, they share a desire for a better future for themselves and their children, said Grossman. Also, they value education and have a tight family structure.

“You can do more with a little bit of money and a lot of relationship,” Grossman said during the Wednesday afternoon presentation at the high school.

The book

While in Summit County this week, Grossman also did a book signing at Next Page Bookstore in Frisco followed by a book discussion. Anyone interested in buying the book or finding out more, can visit Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from “Bones That Float” go to help fund the Grady Grossman School.

“When we started it, I had no idea this would become kind of our life’s work,” Grossman said.

No comments: