Summit County locals Karen and Ben Little raise funds for library, wells in rural Cambodia
Since 2009, Summit County locals Ben and Karen Little have dedicated their time to providing wells to villages in rural Cambodia. The small projects, funded largely by the Littles’ friends in Summit, grew from five to 10 to, now, hundreds of wells.
While pleased with the progress they have made in getting fresh water to villages in need, the Littles recently began asking — what more can we do?
Inspired by others who had worked with the nonprofit Room to Read, which promotes literacy in Asia and Africa, the couple brought the idea of a library to their Cambodian counterpart, Saron Souen.
The Littles met Souen when they hired him to guide them around Angkor Watt, one of the largest temple complexes and religious sites in the world, while on vacation in 2009. The three made an instant connection, which has deepened into a close friendship over the years. That first time, Souen invited the Littles to his small village nearby, where they stayed for several days and became aware of the villagers’ difficulty in procuring fresh water.
“Before our wells project, in the villages that we’re working in, the children or adults would have to walk to a dirty river to bring back 5-gallon pails of water on a pole on their shoulders,” said Ben Little. “And now, they can come right out of their house (and) pump the hand-pump well.”
The Littles returned in 2012, once again staying in the village.
“The first sound I heard at 4 in the morning … besides the animals, was the hand-pump well,” said Ben. “It just has made their lives a lot easier.”
Souen responded enthusiastically to the library suggestion, and estimated that it would cost around $5,000. To the Littles, that was an acceptable expense in order to bring such a resource to the community.
In the end, the price tag was around $8,500, much of which came from generous Summit County donors. In addition to the building itself, the final price included the internal furnishings of tables and bookcases. There’s also a nearby well and an attached bathroom with flushing toilet — a luxury for the area.
Last month, the Littles and a group of interested parties visited the library site in the village of Kouk Reang’ — chosen for its proximity to several other villages. Among the group were the Littles’ granddaughters, bearing a duffel bag full of donated books.
While the donated books were in English, Souen helped to stock the library with books in Khmer — Cambodia’s official language — on topics such as agriculture, nutrition and hygiene. The idea is that the library will be a benefit to all members of the village, from children to adults.
The group brought other items as well, including volleyballs, soccer balls, 75 school uniforms and 100 school kits.
“Ninety-nine percent of our support comes from Summit County, friends and organizations,” Ben said. “I think one of the reasons they have an interest in it is because it’s almost immediate, and they know where the money’s going — 100 percent goes to the project. Karen and I get nothing out of it, Saron gets nothing out of it (financially). We have people who gave us money three weeks ago — their well has already been drilled.”
The wells project is registered with Lantern Projects, a nonprofit that raises funds for small projects around the world. As a 501(c)3 organization, this means that donations to the Littles’ Cambodian projects are tax-deductible.
The Littles are planning another fundraiser on Sunday, March 22, at their home. The event, featuring wine, cheese and live music, will benefit three projects — well building, filters for the wells and the library, which needs more tables, benches, books and a librarian’s salary. The Littles have requested that anyone interested in attending the fundraiser RSVP to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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