Siem Reap, Cambodia (13 Jaunary 2011)
Poverty had forced Tuok Neang to stay away from reading books since he was a child. Born to a poor family in Siem Reap province, Tuok Neang had spent his childhood helping his parents on the farm. He couldn’t afford to buy books and had never appreciated the benefits of reading. However, the Public Information Center (PIC) – jointly established by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank – has brought a big change for Tuok Neang, who is now a university student majoring in English.
In the rectangular-shaped Public Information Center housed in the Southeast Asia Univeristy in Siem Reap with thousands of books well organized on simple wooden shelves, the 23year-old student is clutching a book on war and development. He compares the Public Information Center to a knowledge warehouse, where the public can absorb knowledge free of charge.
“In the past, I never had a good book to read and did not want to read at all. But since I came to this center, the fascinating reading materials grab my attention. The more I read, the more I want to read; reading has really enlightened me,” Tuok Neang said, looking excitedly at the books piled around him.
Tuok Neang, who is also a part-time English teacher, spends at least two hours per day in the Public Information Center to search for different materials, especially those related to economic development. Tuok Neang always discusses what he has read with friends and shares it with his students.
“I hope one day I will be able to fully utilize the knowledge I have gained from this information center and apply the wisdom I have gained from reading so many good books to contribute to the development of Cambodia’s economy,” he said.
The Public Information Center in Siem Reap province is one of three Public Information Centers officially launched by the Asian Development Bank in December 2010. The other two Public Information Centers are located in the Western University in Kampong Cham province and in the University of Management and Economics in Preah Sihanouk province. Each information center is stocked with a wide range of books including economics, social studies, local and international development documents as well as documents produced by development partners, which students, teachers, civil society organization staff and civil servants can access free of charge. These centers are equipped with computers, printers and internet connections to allow users to search for materials on the world wide web.
“Knowledge is power, which can bring about development and progress for individuals and for the nation as a whole,” said Peter Brimble, Senior Country Economist of the Asian Development Bank at the inauguration ceremony of the three Public Information Centers in late December.
“The Public Information Center provides an invaluable knowledge base for all to use, and you should all take advantage of the knowledge in the centers to develop your wisdom and your skills,” Mr. Brimble added.
In Cambodia’s turbulent past, most of those who struggled to survive did not have the chance to appreciate reading as necessary for their lives. This loss of reading culture has continued until the present, although literacy rates have improved. The situation is compounded by the shortage of books and other documents.
Nevertheless, Leng Leanghor, the Public Information Center officer at the Southeast Asia University, said each day there are around 60 students accessing the center in search of knowledge. This number is twice that of 2009 and 2008.
The Public Information Center at the University of Management and Economics in Preah Sihanouk province has also received increased numbers of students reading books and searching for documents on-line, according to the Public Information Center officer Bros Sameoun. There are at least 30 students per day searching for materials related to their learning program, he said.
Keo Rasmey is among them. Rasmey’s eyes are directed towards the computer screen showing information on the history of Cambodia. The 19year-old accounting student said that searching for documents on the internet is not only speedy and diverse but also provides knowledge to complement his studies.
“Such general knowledge will help me compete for jobs in the future,” said Keo Rasmey enthusiastically.
Given the significance of the Public Information Centers, Mr. Brimble announced that the Asian Development Bank plans to launch another Public Information Center in Battambang province in early 2011. “The ADB and the World Bank will also work together to mobilize other development partners to contribute resources to these centers with the common objective of developing human resources in Cambodia,” he added.
(Vol. 5, Issue 3, SEAW)