Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bones that Float

I receive about a book a week from writers and publishers wanting me to review their work. (It's difficult to keep up - don't these people know that I'm lucky to read 3 or 4 books a year!)

One chilly morning after dropping my daughter off at school and watching her wander into her kindergarten class, I was loitering outside with a few of the other moms, desperate for a little adult conversation, when I learned that a friend of mine had a book coming out.

Kari Grady Grossman is the mother of one of Gabriella's classmates. She has written Bones That Float about her journey to adopt her son, and how it has changed her life. She turned down a major publisher and chose to start a publishing company called Wild Heaven Press, so that the proceeds can go to the school that she and her husband started in Chrauk Tiek, Cambodia.

Needless to say that Kari's book (which I purchased myself) is at the top of my pile now, and I can't wait to read it. (I have to finish this Harry Potter book I started you know. If I don't read it I can't see the movie this summer! :) From everything I've heard it is an enthralling, haunting story of love and family, and the history and future of Cambodia.

I am so very happy to be able to help her out in this small way, by putting her story out there for you, and introducing her to all my wonderful readers and friends. She and I sat down over coffee and pastries so I could ask her some questions about her book. (Okay, that's not entirely true. We are both busy moms. We sat down over the glow of our computers between play dates and bedtime stories and had a just-as-lovely conversation. The coffee and pastries were made up.)


[Christine] I know you cover this in your book, but tell me a little bit about the title.

[Kari Grady Grossman] Bones That Float is the English interpretation of a scared Cambodian phrase “chung un diet” which literally translates to bones that float. It means to have good karma, that your body has the good fortune to float away from all the suffering. My son’s birthmother wrote us a letter describing him as having bones that float.

[Christine] US adoptions to Cambodia were closed shortly after you adopted Grady? Why is that?

[Kari Grady Grossman] I wrote Bones That Float, to put this situation in its full historical and cross-cultural context. The media loves to sensationalize stories of international adoption into some economically driven baby-buying racket. It’s much harder to look at the truth of the matter.

Cambodia is the first and only country where the US has refused orphans visas for the purpose of adoption. This happened shortly after 9/11. It is due to accusations of corruption. Interestingly, the accused have already been tried and finished their jail sentence and the adoption process remains closed. Literally thousands of children are held hostage in a political stalemate between our two governments. The US government wants the Cambodian government to create an adoption process that is less corruptible to a US standard. There has been a draft resolution on the desks of the Cambodian government for two years. Unfortunately, the Cambodians have other things to worry about such as grinding poverty, landmines, Aides, human trafficking, deforestation, government corruption, and building roads, an education system, and medical infrastructure. Orphans are low priority.

[Christine] What can be done to reverse this?

[Kari Grady Grossman] Well, there has been a lot of energy put into this in the Cambodia adoption community. Continuing to draw attention to it is all we can do at this point. Write your congress reps and senators, of course. Personally, I’d like to get on the Oprah Winfrey Show with my book and bring the plight of Cambodia’s orphans to the masses!!

[Christine] At what point did you decide to become so involved in Cambodia?

[Kari Grady Grossman] Right after we came home with Grady. We had spent 5 weeks there during his adoption, and returning to Wyoming it felt like we had just been to Pluto. It really bothered me that no one around me seemed to know anything about Cambodia, about the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, or about how the US bombing of Cambodia in the early 1970’s created the situation. In fact, hardly anyone seemed to even know that the US had bombed Cambodia, much less how this led to my son becoming an orphan 30 years later. We wanted to give back and at the time, rural Cambodia had no schools. We decided to affect real change, so less children ended up in orphanages, education was the answer. So we raised $15,000, donated it to American Assistance for Cambodia, and has a school built in our son’s honor.

[Christine] I know you travel back to Cambodia about once a year. What kinds of things are you involved in while you're there?

[Kari Grady Grossman] We sponsor the ongoing education process at our school. Over the 7 years we’ve been doing this, the community of Charuk Tiek has become like family. We have built trust with the teachers and community leaders. We donate school supplies, support the teachers and add to the infrastructure, a library, a teacher’s residence, a computer and English class. With this book, we are launching a big campaign to raise $50,000 with a program to make the school self-sustaining. This will involve life skills and entreprenurial training, music, art and communication. We are starting to see that this relationship is very empowering. On my last trip, I helped the community begin a letter writing campaign to bring attention to their natural resource conflict issues, and we’ve had stunning success with both media coverage and law enforcement. Seven years ago no one could read and write, now they are affecting change in their own community. We want to build on this momentum by bringing in trainings in alternative, sustainable means of income, so more kids can stay in school. Right now there is a 50% drop out rate starting in 3rd grade because of the need to work. Each year we make a little progress toward turning that around.


Thank you Kari, for visiting Mommy Matters. There is so much more I'd love to chat with her about, but I'll have to save that for the next play date. Before I close I'd like to point you all to a couple of short videos Kari has put together. The first is a little background, and how the Grady Grossman School came to be. The second is about the school and how it has grown. (You can even catch a quick video of her son Grady performing for you there!)

I encourage you all to purchase Kari's book, and read it. You can buy it through Amazon if you prefer, but if you buy it through her website, more money from the sale will go to the Grady Grossman School in Cambodia. Thanks for sticking with me on this post, and please leave a comment here for Kari, so that she knows her message is getting out there. (And what a great friend I am. ;)
Name: Christine
Location: Wyoming, United States
I'm the Mom of two. They drive me crazy. I love them dearly. I want one more. I'm not insane, yet. My hubby says I'm a snob with an inferiority complex. There is more to me than being a mother. I just don't remember any of it.

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