Activist returning to Urbana to speak, show films

Bhavia Wagner started out being an activist 45 years ago when she was Carol Hartstirn, an Urbana student working to save Allerton Park from a dam project.

Now she lives in Eugene, Ore., and the 1974 Urbana High School graduate works to help children in Cambodia get a good education.

The author of "Soul Survivors: Stories of Women and Children in Cambodia," she is the founder and director of Friendship with Cambodia, a nonprofit organization that focuses on education and humanitarian projects in Cambodia. Her organization funds scholarships for children, vocational training for land mine survivors, help for street children, small loans for women and natural resource protection.

She'll be back in town Saturday to speak and to show two films about women in the third world:

— a 40-minute edit of the PBS special "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide"; and

— a seven-minute film from "Educate Girls in Cambodia," which features the success stories of girls who were sponsored by Wagner's group.

The event is hosted by Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting. It runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Friends Meeting House, 1904 E. Main St., U. Fair-trade crafts made by trafficked girls in recovery and vulnerable women in Cambodia will be for sale.

A donation at the door of $5-$10 to help girls in Cambodia is optional.Refreshments and child care will be provided.

For more information,contact Charlotte Green via email at charlotteg588@gmail.com or call 766-5550.

Wagner said she first visited Cambodia in 1991 while on a trip to neighboring Vietnam.

"About a dozen of us rented this van from Ho Chi Minh City," she said. "We had a little trouble getting across the border. The driver said we were health care workers."

The group started small, "running out of my studio apartment," but has since helped thousands of people in Cambodia, she said.

Education in Cambodia is considered a luxury, she said, with 75 percent of the students dropping out of grade school. Only 6 percent finish high school.

Wagner's work is part of an adventurous and well-traveled life.

After leaving Urbana, where her mother still lives, Wagner went to college at Colorado State University, was director of an environmental organization and started a recycling business, living all over the country.

For more information on her group, visit http://www.friendshipwithcambodia.org.

Topics (1):Film

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