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Saturday, February 21, 2009

"@ My Library" in Laos - community media & learning

Most of my career has been spent working in the nonprofit field of community media - and public access TV channels/media centers. The incredible, recent success of YouTube and similar sites for user-generated video notwithstanding, I have frequently felt that I chose the road less taken and it didn't really lead anywhere special. Public access cable TV channels are surfed over like shopping channels by most people for reasons I have examined and tried to overcome a hundred-thousand times over the years, with some "hits", and many more misses.

On my trip to Laos, I visited two non-profit media projects that are making a difference and feature some of the best ingredients of community media.

The first was called "@ My Library" in Luang Prabang, Laos. Started by Carol Kresge, an expat from Connecticut, around five or six years ago, it has evolved from a library geared to youth who don't have the same access to books that we take for granted in the West. Over time about eight computer stations have been added to the cozy space where people can pull up a chair and a set of headphones to study English, play educational games, or learn computer applications. Most recently, the center has added some digital cameras that can be borrowed. A few have now become adept at Adobe Photoshop and one twosome created a movie 30 seconds at a time, using the video setting on a digital still camera, and then editing all the segments using the Movie Maker application. There are over 1,000 book checkouts a month and 25,000 hours of computer usage per year. It's a place that has changed lives who - as adults - will probably change Laos.

I met a 19 year old monk in Thailand who asked me to deliver a message to his teacher in Luang Prabang, Laos. One afternoon, I located the correct wat (monastary) in Luang Prabang and readily found the teacher's 17 year old brother - a novice monk. After we found his elder brother and delivered the message, he asked what I wanted to do next as his afternoon was free. I told him I'd seen a flyer for "@ My Library" and he immediately guided me there. As soon as we arrived he obviously felt at home and went straight for a computer and a set of headphones. It looked a bit incongruous with the headphones on his shaved head and the saffron robe completing his attire, but no more so than stumbling across an outstanding community media center in Luang Prabang, Laos.

For more info on "@ My Library": (photo gallery) (to donate)

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