The Library in Wat Chompa by Gabby Low

On 22 Feb. 2008, we visited the Vietnamese village in Wat Chompa. It got its name from the Wat which is a temple in the Khmer language. It sits on part of the Wat's land. Wat Chompa village is one of 13 villages in Cambodia which reminds one of a refugee camp. The villagers are stateless and they do not have the relevant papers either to stay in Cambodia or in Vietnam.

Wat Chompa with the houses in close proximity

Wat Chompa has a population of about one thousand people. It is situated very close to the edge of the Mekong River. The houses are built very close to each other because of the scarcity of land. Some of the villages resort to living on boats on the river as that is considered as "No Man's land".

Floating Houses

Emmanuel Chombart and Irad Beldjebel, MEP volunteers, gave us a tour of the village.  From our Tour De Chompa, we saw many schooling age children spending their time playing or gambling. They imitate the adults. Some help to look after their younger siblings and others help their parents run the "family" businesses.  Our hearts reached out to these children.

Emmanuel Chombart (Left) and Irad Beldjebel, MEP volunteers

Children indulging in gambling to while their time

Minding their siblings while their parents work

Helping with the family business

Playing to while their time away rather than go to school

More idle children

The Vietnamese are very devout and faithful Catholics. They have a church in their compound and two shrines, one at either end of the village. The population has been growing for the last 18 years. We tried to arrange for a Vietnamese woman who could collaborate with Irad to give sessions on family planning; however, without much success.

The Village shrines

Regardless, the village drew us back for a few more visits and we talked to Fr. LE Van Tinh Peter on how we can contribute to the village.  Laurent Boton, another MEP volunteer based in this village, talked about setting up a mini library for the children. After much discussion, we finally agreed to it.

Fr. Peter LE (right) and Laurent Boton

We decided that even though it was easier and cheaper to purchase a cupboard or shelves for the books, it would be much better if the residents built it themselves, for accountability and to have a stake in the project. Thus, the bookshelves were built by a couple of youths.

The books and the DIY Shelves

The DIY cupboard

Betty Tan (from Mission Awareness Exposure) and Frances Lew went to HCM (Ho Chi Minh) to buy 86 copies of Vietnamese books for the library. Meanwhile, Laurent Boton contacted Editions SIPAR (French organization that prints books locally) and purchased some English and Khmer books. The Kindergarten teacher and another youth leader had gone to local books stores to get more books for the library.

Books from SIPAR

It was good to see the library up and running, additional lighting was added. Posters displaying encouraging proverbs, and wise sayings were put on the walls and some of the books were out on the shelves too. The library is not officially opened yet. The youth are still wrapping the books and cataloguing and numbering them.

Posters and Wise sayings

It was fantastic that a few boys came in and picked up a couple of books to read. One was reading aloud and teaching his friend to read. For few children are able to read in Vietnamese (Losing their culture) and some can read in Khmer. Sadly, quite a number do not know how to read yet.

Reading & Teaching each other to read

We hope that this mini-library will open up doors to a new world for those who can read.  For others, a door to discovering knowledge.

Laurent and Gabby