American Girl in Cambodia
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
“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.
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
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.
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.”