Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fred Lipp's so-called retirement

As an introduction to Fred Lipp, children's author and founder of the Cambodian Arts & Scholarship Foundation, here's a story from Money Magazine in America dated October 2005:
"The most important thing in my life right now is to be part of the answer," says Fred. Before he retired, Unitarian Universalist minister Frederick Lipp believed that he and his wife Kitty (pictured) had a pretty good fix on their future. Nothing grand, mind you: They'd retire to a small arboretum in Maine established by Fred's father. Shortly before this idyll was to begin, however, Fred, then 58, found time to write a children's book. It changed everything. Called The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh, the book is based on a Cambodian custom. For a few pennies, a person buys a small caged bird and makes a wish. The bird is then released. If it flies free, the wish is granted. But because the birds are domesticated, they usually return to the seller's cage. Lipp wrote of a Cambodian girl who yearns to escape poverty and eventually discovers how to release a bird that finds freedom and grants her wish.

In 2001, a year after the book was finished, he visited Cambodia for the first time. He was overwhelmed by the plight of countless girls who were unschooled, exploited in the sex trade, living in wretched conditions. With a few thousand dollars drawn from his and Kitty's modest assets, he established the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation (CASF). Its mission: to help as many girls as possible, affording them clean water, health care and a basic education. Today, running the foundation leaves little time for the arboretum or anything else. While Kitty earns a modest salary as a school guidance counselor, Fred raises money. "When I'm in Cambodia," he says, "I promise the girls I'll do all I can to make their dreams happen." Does he ever long for the peaceful golden years he once anticipated? Hardly. "Retirement," he says, "is a lousy word."

Whilst CASF goes from strength to strength, nurturing and supporting the education of over 275 young girls across Cambodia - read about their vital work here - Fred continues to write lavishly illustrated children's books and will be in London in November to promote his latest book, Running Shoes, with illustrations by Jason Gaillard. It tells the story of Sophy who is able to run the eight kilometres to school each day with the aid of her new shoes. Along with Caged Birds and his other books, these are invaluable tools to aid the education of young children about different cultures.

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