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By Eric Weld   Date: 2/1/11 Bookmark and Share

An American Girl in Cambodia

Smith Sophomore’s Travels Lead to Launch of Educational Book Series

She didn’t realize it at the time, but about eight years ago, the moment Elizabeth Biddle ’13 came face to face with a girl about her age, her life changed.

Elizabeth Biddle ’13, at age 12, posing at the ruins of a Cambodian shrine.

Elizabeth Biddle present day, amid artifacts from her travels.

Biddle was on a trip in Cambodia with her family when she encountered a girl missing her limbs, asking for assistance. To her astonishment, when Biddle gave her money, the girl thanked her and blessed her.

“I couldn’t stop crying the rest of the day,” Biddle recalled recently. “This girl was so grateful for what little I gave her. It was a reality check: I thought, ‘Where does that put me?’ That’s when I decided I had to do something.”

Biddle embarked on writing a series of stories, beginning with her experience with the girl—whose name she never learned—in Cambodia, about children she has met in her many travels and what they signify about their homelands.

The first of her stories, for middle school-aged readers, titled A Girl Called Nothing, is part of a book Biddle published last year that teaches about the history of Cambodia. Biddle plans to develop a series of similar books, called Through Other Eyes.

Biddle, a theater major with a minor in government, has plenty of material to draw from. After moving from Seattle to Hong Kong with her family at age 7, she traveled with her family on numerous “adventure trips,” as her father referred to them. Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Tibet, Europe and Africa were among their stops. At age 21, Biddle has visited 52 countries.

“My mom was very brave,” said Biddle, noting it was her mother’s idea to venture on their frequent trips. Traveling frugally, Biddle, her sister, Katharine, who is three years younger, and her mother and father engaged closely with native people of the countries they visited and sometimes coaxed peril, taking rides in less-than-safe vehicles on treacherous roads. “We almost died a couple times.”

Armed with rich and plentiful memories and first-hand accounts of exotic locales, Biddle plans to write books focusing on India, the Silk Road, Myanmar and Vietnam, for starters—10 or 11 books in all, she envisions.

Biddle hopes her series will assist young Americans’ education about Asian countries, using language familiar to them and not widely available in typical curricula.

Before moving to Hong Kong, Biddle knew very little about Asia. It was in 1997, two months before Hong Kong would switch from British to Chinese rule in accordance with a 100-year-old treaty signed in 1897 following armed conflict between the countries.

“The only access I had was Big Bird Goes to China,” she said. With her book series, Biddle wants to provide young Americans with better knowledge of Asian countries.

Biddle is promoting A Girl Called Nothing, which she self-published, with a series of readings planned back home in Hong Kong, and a connection with U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell in Washington state.

An important component of her authorship is a donation of all proceeds from book sales. Biddle donates 10 percent of sales of A Girl Called Nothing to M’Lop Tapang, an organization in Cambodia that assists street children with education and other resources.

It all started with that long-ago encounter in Cambodia.

“There are some people you meet who change your entire perspective,” she recalls of the Cambodian girl. “If I can do something that can help improve people’s lives, that’s what I want to do.”

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