As a child, Tuok Neang did not have access to books. His parents, poor farmers in Siem Reap province, could not afford them. But today Tuok Neang, a university student majoring in English, has access to a wealth of information about his country's history, politics, and economic growth. Public information centers - jointly financed by ADB and the World Bank - have opened up a world of learning opportunities for students like Tuok Neang.
"In the past, I never had a good book to read," he explained, standing inside a public information center at the Southeast Asia University in Siem Reap. "But since I came to this center, the fascinating reading materials grab my attention."
The 23-year-old student clutches a book on conflict and development. "The more I read, the more I want to read," Tuok Neang said. "Reading has really enlightened me."
ADB Shares its Research
In December 2010, ADB launched three public information centers in Cambodia, including this one in Siem Reap. Western University in Kampong Cham and the University of Management and Economics in Preah Sihanouk host the other two. Each center is stocked with books and documents on economics, social studies, and local and international development.
The centers also contain research produced by ADB, the World Bank, and other development partners, which students, teachers, civil society organization staff and civil servants can access free of charge. The goal is to keep Cambodia's students informed about the work that ADB and other development partners are doing in their country, and to engage them in development issues.
ADB has launched similar public information centers in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, and the Philippines.
In Cambodia, some of the books and reports are in Khmer. Others are in English, which will prove useful for students seeking international careers. The centers are also equipped with computers, printers, and internet connections to allow users to search for materials on the world wide web.
"The public information center provides an invaluable knowledge base for all to use," said Peter Brimble, ADB senior country economist.
Information Attracts Attention
Cambodia's turbulent past often prevented people from enjoying the luxury of reading. Athough literacy rates have improved, a shortage of books and other documents has compounded the problem.
Nevertheless, ADB-supported public information centers are gaining in popularity among students. Leng Leanghor, the public information center officer at Southeast Asia University, said nearly 60 students use the center each day, double that of previous years.
The public information center at the University of Management and Economics in Preah Sihanouk is also popular. According to center officer Bros Sameoun, at least 30 students per day come to the center to search for materials related to their academic program.
Keo Rasmey is among them. While reading online about the history of Cambodia, the 19-year-old accounting student said that access to the internet allows him to quickly find information to complement his studies. "Such general knowledge will help me compete for jobs in the future," he said.
Brimble said that ADB plans to launch another public information center in Battambang in early 2011. "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 said.
Knowledge: The Fuel of Development
"Knowledge is power, which can bring about development and progress for individuals and for the nation as a whole," said Brimble, at the inauguration ceremony of the three public information centers in late December 2010.
Tuok Neang embodies this hope. Also a part-time English teacher, Tuok Neang spends at least 2 hours per day in his university's public information center reading about economic development. He always discusses what he has read with friends and shares it with his students.
Said Tuok Neang: "I hope one day I will be able to apply the wisdom I have gained from reading so many good books to contribute to the development of Cambodia's economy."