Making an impact: Cambridge residents and students help build school in Cambodia

A group of Cambridge public school students, teachers, parents, businesses and residents raised $24,000 between October 2007 and June 2008 to build a school in rural Cambodia.

The February 2010 dedication of the Cambridge Schools in Cambodia Project School in rural Kauk Rovieng marked the end of three years of fundraising and planning. The school was built, complete with two computers and three solar panels for energy.

According to the Cambridge Schools in Cambodia Project website, children worked diligently to raise the funds from after-school jobs and clothing and community sales. These funds were allocated towards construction of the five-room school, which was built in cooperation with American Assistance for Cambodia, an Asian non-profit organization. This is the 405th school constructed by American Assistance for Cambodia’s Rural Schools Project.

Currently, the school is run by the Cambodian Ministry of Education.

After the construction was complete, eight Cambridge students were invited to do a service learning project by organizing a field trip over February vacation week to attend the school’s 2010 dedication. These students were led by six people from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, along with two middle-school students. These students worked together with a group of thirty Cambridge businesses to raise the additional $18,000 dollars for the one- week trip.

According to their Web site, the Cambridge Schools in Cambodia Project began in 2007 at the Haggerty School, a public school in West Cambridge, as part of the Global Awareness Peace Project. This peace project was organized by the Arts Council and parents Heather Faris and Erika Wentworth. This project spread to other public and private schools and local universities including Harvard, MIT and Tufts.

The CSCP partnered with American Assistance for Cambodia to help spearhead education growth and increase the literacy rate for people over age 15, and also to deter human trafficking. The United States and Cambodia have had a long history dating back to the Vietnam War, during which the country of Cambodia was socially and economically devastated.

Heather Faris, co-founder of the project, elaborated about their goals. “This project emphasized how children in other parts of the world live,” said Faris. “This experience provides our students with a better understanding of other cultures.”Faris pointed out that the Cambridge students played a major role even from the beginning.

“A lot of Cambridge children contributed money,” said Faris. “They contributed hundreds of nickels, dimes and quarters, money from allowances, and contributed funds from after school jobs.”

The Cambridge Schools in Cambodia Project website highlighted the fact that private school students from the Shady Hill and Buckingham and Brown & Nichols schools also supported the project.

“We received donations from public and private school students statewide,”said Faris. “These young people were very interested in our work.”

According to Faris, the dedication of students helped to build partnerships. Businesses such as the Elephant Walk restaurant featured three fundraising dinners for the Cambridge Schools in Cambodia Project from 2008 through 2010. These dinners were sponsored for the initial school construction as well as the field trip.

“The Elephant Walk was very supportive of the project,” said Faris.

Faris described how local businesses helped contribute to the project. “We had an online auction in which businesses donated either products or services for individuals to bid on. Corporation participation included computer services, sporting goods and food.

“We were able to raise $5,000 from our on-line auction,” said Faris.

Faris mentioned that fundraising is ongoing to pay annual Internet fees and to pay the salary of an English-speaking high-tech teacher. Additionally, American Assistance for Cambodia is working with CSCP to pay Cambodian families to send young girls to the school. These girls would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend school because they are working full time to provide income for their families.

“Future goals are to continue to raise funds to pay for the special teacher,”said Faris, who also talked about another student trip to visit the school in Cambodia. “We would like for our high school students to make a second trip.”

Faris also highlighted the computers the project was able to purchase for the Cambodian students.

“We have purchased two additional computers,” said Faris. “They have just been delivered.”

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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