News & Newsletters
Thanks to our summer intern Anna Che’s hard work, we now have two newsletters! Click on the months below to read them:
Click on the months below to view that month's news:
The first photo of our six scholarship alumni who are attending 10th grade at the Leadership Academy college prep boarding school in Phnom Penh.
Partnership with Kep International School for after-school computer skills and robotics classes.
We've just solidified a partnership with Kep International School, a very advanced private K-6 school using a Western curriculum which we feel is the model for all Cambodian schools---ours included, to have Mar, their computer teacher, travel to our school to teach after-school computer skills to students and teachers.
It will cost us $85 in total transportation costs for Mar, KIS's teacher, to travel from Kep to our school and back, and $24/student for the first three weeks of class.
Many high-paying careers in Cambodia demand advanced computer skills. Many involve the kind of programming students learn through robotics.
We get the first Wonder Workshop robots in Cambodia!!!!
Leland High School students get trained on Wonder Workshop's educational robots.
Four Leland High School students traveled to Wonder Workshop's headquarters in Menlo Park to be trained on Wonder Workshop's Dot, Dash and new Cue educational robots. Three of the students will be traveling with a grope of 28 Leland students and parents to the Doris Dillon school during Presidents' Week to teach programming to Kep international School students and Doris Dillon School students using Wonder Workshop's donated robots. A big thanks to Mike Lorion of Wonder Workshop (on the left in the photo below) who arranged the donation and the training (and the great pizza lunch!).
Mike Lorion (left) of Wonder Workshop was instrumental in providing training and donated robots for Leland HS students Corey Moore (2nd from left), Chris Healy (3rd from left), Zach Case (3rd from right), and Thuy Nguyen (2nd from right) to use in teaching. Our president, Jim DeLong (right).
The First Wonder Workshop's robots make it to Cambodia!!!!
Our board member Ken Colson (the guy with the walrus mustache in the photo below) hand-carried Wonder Workshop's donated Dot and Dash robots to donate to the Kep International School for use by Paul, their computer and robotics teacher. He gave the robots to the school at KIS's annual holiday celebration.
Kep International School learning programming using Wonder Workshop's Dot and Dash robots!
Four of our six Leadership Academy scholarship alumni doing their homework at night (yes, they do look serious...)
and a short video of them singing an English lesson (their smiles are priceless!)
Thanks to Tavia Wolf of the Leadership Academy who looks the photo and video. Here is what Tavia wrote about her visit:
Over the past 1.5 weeks I stayed at the Leadership Academy and I have to tell you, the 10th graders' smiles brightened my day every single time I saw them. Their smiles are big, bright and full of excitement for what the future might hold.
Update: Leland High School students and parent volunteer work at our school during presidents' Week...the latest packing list....
What our group of 30 is bringing:
an AmScope microscope (donated by Lydia Gmerek)
37 RAFT (Resource Area for Teachers) science activity kits (http://www.raftbayarea.org/activity-kits) donated by Jim & Denise DeLong
an Ambient Weather Station (donated by Dr. Steven Kas
5 inflatable adult and infant CPR dummies (donated by Sofie Gmerek)
3 Cue educational robots (donated by Wonder Workshop--thanks Mike Lorion!)
3 Amazon Fire tablets & 3 other donated tablets (donated by zJim and Denise DeLong)
2 used laptops (donated by Laura and Leo Fujikawa). One is for Rachna, a DDS scholarship alum attending university in Kampot on scholarship to be an elementary school teacher. Rachna's old donated laptop just died. laptop died. The other, with a DVD drive, will be used to show Cambodian movies at planned village movie nights
12 ukuleles (donated by Mira Karthik)
36 frisbees for Carrie and Savannah Genise's ultimate frisbee lessons and girls' league formation
200 first aid kits for village families (donated by the Gmereks)
Meanwhile, our vagabond board member Ken Colson and super-amazing in-country director Sokna Chhin have been busy spending your generous donation dollars in Phnom Penh buying:
an LCD projector for showing Cambodian movies to village families and for projecting microscope images
school and basic health supplies (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo) for all 197 DDS students
acrylic paint for the mural Smera Patil will create with student and volunteer help
cigarettes, cotton wool, and prisoners' teeth (honest....Ken Colson is incredibly resourceful) for science lessons showing tar residue from cigarette smoke and the powerful dissolving properties on teeth of sugar cane juice and popular sodas
Ken and Sokna will get these and other supplies driven down to our school on the 10th so we'll have more room available for our group's luggage when we caravan down to our school later in the month.
The latest February volunteer trip class schedule:
We have gained a newfound profound respect for all of those Assistant Principals who have suffered the agonies each summer creating students' fall class schedules at Bret Harte.....we're still working out how we guide students through each days' schedule ("who goes where and when")...
Here are the schedules that the Leland HS students devised (note: their volunteer parents disavow all typos).
Also, late breaking news! A local author will present to our 9th graders on Friday morning! Now we'll have to update the schedule to fit her in...
Leland HS volunteer Smera Patil brings a local author to inspire our students:
SMERA PATIL!!!! is one of the most inspirational Leland HS students who volunteered at our school during Presidents' Week break. Smera created amazing fundraisers to purchase educational books from SIPAR for our library and created FOR THE FIRST TIME a checkout system for library books. She wrote out rules for students to check out books and had the rules translated into Khmer locally. Then, she created a poster she hand-carried to our school to put up in our library. Then...in echoes of Doris's legacy, she brought a local Cambodian author (and her publisher) to our school to read her work and talk about being a writer (and publisher) to our students. Then.....she and her family (her mom, aunt and grandma) glued old-school checkout card pockets into all of the library books so students could check them out. Then....(see what I mean about being inspirational...) she created another fundraiser to fund a librarian to manage the library. Now, thanks to Smera's efforts, student can take books home and read them to their families (note: most parents are illiterate, so this really shows them the value of their children's education). And last (remember that "inspirational" description)...now, girls at our school have formed a reading group...just like our book clubs, they read a book and then discuss it together...all thanks to Smera's work!
(Left) A local author reads her work to students and shares her story about choosing to become a writer. (Center) These girls have formed a reading club that meets after school, thanks to Smera's and our librarian's work. (Right ) This is the checkout system, showing that students have begun to take books home--13 students in the first few days!
Mar makes a video journey to our school and to the after-school Advanced Computer classes her teaches.
Mar is an incredibly gifted teacher at the Kep International School (http://www.kepinternationalschool.com). He's very skilled at teaching higher level computer skills. We asked him to teach after-school classes to those students and teachers who wanted to learn more advanced computer skills. Attendance and interest level at the classes have been phenomenal.
As an example of the kind of guy he is, Mar decided to make a video of his motorcycle journey from his work at the ken International School to our school using a helmet-mounted GoPro camera. It really captures the countryside of southern Cambodia in the dry season (no, it's not beautifully emerald green to the horizon like it is when the rice is growing in the monsoon season). At the end of the video, he shows us photos of the classes at work and of each of the students he teaches. Take a few moments to watch it--we think it'll make your heart smile.
Here's the link:
First Harvest from Sofie's Garden!
Sofie Gemerek , a Leland High School student and her mother, sacrificed their Presidents’ Week vacation (along with 26 other students and parents) to work on her Girl Scout Gold Award projects. Her fundraising purchased adult and infant CPR dummies, first aid kits for all 192 students, a microscope w/camera and LCD projector so a whole class can view a slide on the wall, materials for a demonstration garden so village farmers can learn how to grow a wide variety of vegetables to well in the market town of Kampong Trach, and a year’s salary for the gardener. She taught CPR, nutrition, first aid, teeth brushing using disclosing tablets, proper hand washing using GloGerm and so much more in three days. Oh, she also had students write out anti-smoking pledges in Khmer…She also funded the training last August of 25 farmers in CEDAC’s System of Rice Intensification techniques which increase rice yield over 50% on average. She also funded a follow-up survey of the farmers to determine how they’ll implement the SRI techniques during the planting season. The survey will also be used to galvanize their interest in planting vegetables using irrigation to grow for income during the dry season. The gardener has taught students how to raise the vegetables and they just harvested their first crops for their families—check out the pictures of them! Thank you so much Sofie, for all of your hard work—you’re truly making a huge difference in the lives of others a world away!!!
(Left): Our gardener, hired and funded by Sofie, teaches gardening techniques to students during our February volunteer trip. (Center): Students plant vegetables and morning glory (stems are used for salads). (Right): Students show their harvest one month after planting.
Our annual 9th grade field trip to Phnom Penh!
Each year, we fund a field trip for the 9th grade students to visit the Royal Palace, History Museum, Tuol Sleng (S21--the notorious Khmer Rouge torture center in a former downtown high school), and have lunch at a restaurant in the Aeon Mall. None had ever visited they capital city. We've found that this trip really helps to motivate younger 7th & 8th grade students to do well so that they can go at the end of 9th grade.
(From left top, going across): In front of the Royal Palace--the late King Sihanouk's photo is behind them. Royal Palace courtyard. At the National History Museum. On a walkway where the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers converge.
(From bottom left, going across): At Tuol Sleng, the former high school in the city center that was turned into the notorious S21 torture center.--it now houses the National Genocide Museum. At a restaurant in the Aeon Mall--the first time many students had ever eaten in a restaurant. "Window shopping" in the Aeon Mall. In a street market near the Wat Onalom, a 14th century Buddhist temple.
The teachers' field trip to Koh Kong and Kampong Soum provinces
Each year, we fund a field trip of their choosing for the staff of our school and their families. The first year, they chose to visit the famous Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap. last year, they visited the beautiful Rattanakiri province. This year, they chose to visit Koh Kong and Kampong Suom province to the northwest of our school on Cambodia's beautiful coast. These trips give them a chance to visit some of the wonderful places in their country that many would otherwise never have the chance to experience. We ask that they share their experiences and impressions and what they've learned from their trips with their students. CHECK OUT THE PHOTOS!!! (Note: we've learned a long time ago that Cambodians do not pose with a smile for photos--smiling traditionally indicates shyness and being uncomfortable with the situation....So, the smiles we capture are those that are spontaneous.)
(From top left): under the Koh Kong bridge spanning the Koh Kong River. Boating near the floating hotel on the Tatai River. By the Tatai River-the Tatai Waterfall is in the background. On a beach on Koh Kong Island. (From bottom left): At the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary. The suspension bridge to thmangrove wetlands at Peak Krasop. At the city center in Sihanoukville. On a beach near Sihanoukville. On a Sihanoukville walkway.
Kep International School Science Fair: KIS is using STEM science activity kits created by San Jose's Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT) (http://www.raftbayarea.org/activity-kits) to teach elementary students hand-on science.
We donated 21 different RAFT science activity kits to KIS, a partner elementary school, so that they could use them in their STEM curriculum.
The photo below shows RAFT's Germinator science activity kit (presently sold out in San Jose) in action. The kit is a way, clever in its simplicity, to show kids how plants grow, day by day. The kit uses a clear CD case, mounted vertically in a slotted frame that sits immersed in a pie pan of water. Students fold seeds in pair towels that hang out of the bottom of the CD case. The water moves upward through absorption, moistening the seeds that sprout and develop visual roots and stems.
We donated the same 21 kinds of science activity kits to our science teachers as well. We started plant-growing with the same Germinator kits during the Leland students and parents volunteer trip in February and achieved similar growth. the kits are a fantastic way to teach the fundamentals of science in a hands-on way.
Dental Clinic at our school
The Australian NGO Your Aid's Project Cambodia (http://youraid.org.au/dental-clinics/) has run a dental clinic at our school for many years now. (Your Aid is a partner organization of the Buddhist Library and Meditation Centre.) They treated 171 students: 95 students had cavities and had composite filling for 261 teeth. 12 students had their teeth pulled out (19 teeth, and 37 students got their teeth cleaned and had no other work done. You can see how critical it is for us to maintain a strong ongoing dental care program. We're concerned about the results and are fundraising to purchase toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss to distribute to students/families. If you wish to donate, click here.
Today, science teacher Pros made his first 7th grade science presentation using our donated microscope, camera, and LCD projector! Leland student Sofie Gmerek and her mother raised funds to purchase this microscope, camera, and LCD projector so a whole class can view microscope slides projected on a classroom wall. This 7th grade class is viewing a slide of an onion during a lesson on how vegetables grow.
Today we held our Silent Auction for Cambodian Girls' Scholarships.
Each year, since 2007, we've held a silent auction at Bret Harte Middle School San Jose's Cultural Fair. (Note: Bret Harte's students,families, and the Almaden community raised over $20,000 in donations and at our first silent auction in May 2007 so that we had funds to build and staff our school with a computer/English teacher. Our school is Bret Harte's sister middle school.)
This year, thanks to the generosity of Bret Harte's families, we were able to fund the ongoing scholarships for 29 7th-12 grade girls who were forced to drop out because of their family's dire poverty. Thanks also to the Leland and Bret Harte students and parent volunteers who helped plan and run the silent auction.
The girls' community service group in action!
During the February Leland HS student and parent volunteer trip, Leland's Mira Karthik, created an all-girl community service team at our school for her Girl Scout Gold Award. And, she also did fundraisers to buy 10 ukuleles and create a ukulele music program for our school. She and Leland high school and parent volunteers taught girl empowerment and ukulele lessons to students.
The girls' community service team worked the last few days to plant flowers around a school flagpole and paint the flagpole base. This is a great example of the lasting effect of Mira's work!
Our scholarship 1st grader, Sreyleak, at Kep International School
Sreyleak is a Cambodian village girl enrolled in 1st grade at the Kep International School that we've supported with a scholarship. Her mother abandoned the family, so she lives with her grandmother. Every day, she would watch other children walk to KIS and finally followed them and asked a teacher if she could come to the school also. She loves going to school and has excelled and really blossomed.
When we visited herring the February volunteer trip, I played chess with her. Soon, I was clearly winning and few of her pieces remind on the board. I relaxed and watched her as she furrowed her brow in concentration, pondering each move. Suddenly, after a move she took great care to make, I realized she had put me in checkmate...honest. We hope that one day she will join us at the Doris Dillon School.
Leland HS student Anokhi Mehta held an art camp to raise funds for our school! Here's an excerpt from her post:
Hi everyone! My name is Anokhi Mehta and I am currently a junior at Leland High School and as the school year comes to an end, I am looking forward to a fun-filled summer! For the past 3 years of high school, I have been a member and officer of Leland’s Invisible Issues club, which has mainly focused on helping to fund several programs at our sister school, the Doris Dillon School, in Cambodia. As someone very passionate about both art and providing education to kids in third-world countries, I have decided to host a series of art camps this summer!
Thanks to Anokhi's generosity and compassion, the funds she raised will provide scholarships for three Cambodia village girls who were forced to drop out because their family is so poor. Now, these girls will be able to return to school this next school year. At school, girls are physically safe. Girls who are forced to quit school work in rural isolation. At school, they can form lifelong friendships. And, education gives these girls the priceless gift of hope: an opportunity to create a better future. Anokhi's choice to donate her time and talents will really make a difference in these girls' and their families' lives.
Thanks to Councilman Johnny Khamis, his office provided us a booth at our district's 4th of July celebration. We shared the story of our school with many neighbors and sold items made by Cambodian villagers that we hand-carried back. Our Almaden community's generosity provided funds for two more girls' scholarships. We really enjoyed the opportunity to connect our community with a village community a world away. Thanks also to our board members who volunteered to help out.
The same storms that threatened the Thai cave rescue mission destroyed our organic demonstration garden. We're raising $400 in funding for materials, plants/seedlings and labor ("overtime" for our gardener). We created the garden to show families how to diversify beyond a one-crop income from rice. It's maintained by the students and a gardener we hired to oversee and teach farmers. If you would like to donate, click on Give to pay by credit card or PayPal. Here are some photos of the destruction.
The library system developed and implemented by Leland High School student Smera Patil is proving a great success! In July, total of 109 students checked in with the librarian Smera hired and has funded for this year:
Grade 7: 37 students
Grade 8: 36 students
Grade 9; 35 students
Books checked out by students: 29
The six Doris Dillon school alumni who finished 10th grade at the Leadership Academy college prep boarding school in Phnom Penh returned home this month. As part of their curricula, they are each assigned to perform community service in their home village.
Accordingly, they did something that’s simply amazing. They persuaded our students, who are on vacation (!), to return to school to be taught classes in English by all six Leadership students. Here are some photos of their classes:
The six Leadership Academy students, former Doris Dillon School alumni, also persuaded elementary school students to come to school during their vacation (!), to be taught reading and writing in Khmer. Check out the photos!
Sofie Gmerek, a West Valley college incoming freshman, created and administered a survey to 15 rice farmers in the village our school serves. She is seeking to find a way to diversify village families from a single-crop dependence on rice by encouraging farmers to grow vegetables—especially in the dry season—to increase their families’ income.
The following is the results of her survey with 15 farmers:
Our English and Computer teacher Saveng has taken the initiative to continue the ukulele classes that were started back in February by Leland High school volunteers under the direction of sophomore Mira Karthik who created a unique way to teach ukulele and funded purchase of 10 ukuleles from Guitar Showcase in San Jose. Our board member Ken Colson was the catalyst for this amazing program at our school. He purchased four ukuleles and single-handedly motivated students to desire to learn to play. Mira seized on his work to create an ongoing program that Saveng is teaching.
NOTE: These students are coming to Saveng’s classes during their vacation (!!!). Check out the photos:
At the beginning of each school year, teachers monitor the attendance of incoming 7th grade girls to determine which girls have graduated 6th grade from the government elementary school next to us and then dropped out of 7th grade.
We then visit the families of girls who have dropped out to find out why they have stopped attending school. If they have begun working to raise money to supplement their family’s income, we assess their families need. We discuss our scholarship program with those families who have the greatest need to determine their commitment and their daughter’s to returning to school.
We then award scholarships of $15 per month based on that month’s acceptable attendance and grades to 10 of these girls. Click here to read the profiles of the 10 girls who will begin 7th grade thanks to the generosity of our donors.
Thanks to continuing donations from the Gmerek family, who spearheaded the creation of our demonstration garden, our gardener and his students have yet again produced a bumper crop of vegetables as the photos show!
Prior to the January 2019 West Valley’s Society of Global Citizens volunteer trip, a student team planning installation of water collection systems for village families asked our principal Mey Cheoun to choose three families most in need. We asked that he send us photos of these families’ homes so that the student team could plan the best methods to connect the gutter systems to the homes.
When we were sent photos of the three homes, we were alarmed at the condition of one of them. We were concerned that strong winds from monsoon rains could collapse the home while the family sheltered inside potentially causing serious injury or even death. One of the girls on scholarship lives there with her father and, since there are no walls, she has little privacy.
Her family is very poor. As the photo below shows, her father is slender and short and was unable to perform much of the labor to build the home. In true community spirit, his neighbors pitched in and did most of the construction work.
When we saw the photo, we decided that we would raise funds to build a home like those of their neighbors. In return for this, we asked the family to open one of the bedrooms for use by volunteers who wanted to experience a home stay with a village family. They accepted our offer and so, building began this month. The three photos of handwritten figures in Khmer are the building estimates from Mekong Homes, the builder that board member Ken Colson and our in-country director Ms. Sokna Chhin chose after doing ‘boots on the ground’ research with various construction companies.
Stay tuned to see the result!
Thanks to a donation from the Paquier family and a matching gift from Apple, we were able to start construction on a girls-only ‘state of the art’ bathroom. We’ve wanted to build a 'state of the art' girls-only bathroom to improve girls' experience attending school. Girls need to feel welcome and comfortable at our school, especially during menstruation. Traditionally, village girls are often taught to withdraw during this time. We’ve wanted to find ways to encourage them to attend school during this time. Hopefully, a ‘state of the art’ bathroom with private stalls, water basins for flushing toilets, and a counter and mirror with a supply of toiletries will contribute to making their school experience better.
Note: Concerning improving girls’ educational experience—thanks to the work of the West Valley student team headed by Elly Hudson, and especially the work of Lydia and Sofie Gmerek, girls received menstrual training and reusable maxi pads donated by Days for Girls. Before many girls would stay home during menstruation. (Please click here to see the January 2019 volunteer trip of the West Valley Society of Global Citizens.
Below are some construction photos:
This is a great story about initiative: Vanda, our librarian funded by Leland High school student Smera Patil’s fundraising and hired by her during Smera’s volunteer trip in February 2018 (click here to read about the trip), chose to create an inventory of all of the library books. Here are photos of her work:
West Valley Community College’s student organization, the Society of Global Citizens, traveled coo our school in January to work on a myriad of volunteer projects that they created. You can read about their incredible work here.
Our English/Computer teacher Saveng followed up the work of West Valley’s student volunteers earlier in the month by working on his own to help train our librarian Vanda on how to access the many educational software programs that West Valley student Jacob Bryan spent many hours loading onto the library’s server that West Valley students funded.
In the photo below, Saveng is holding one of the tablets donated by the Gemerek family that David Gmerek programmed with educational software that students can access while in the library.
In the other photo, Saveng is teaching students an astronomy lesson using donated books funded by Leland student Smera Patil’s fundraising work.
During the Presidents’ Week vacation, Leland High School students and parents sacrificed their time to perform volunteer work at our school. Click here to see their amazing work!
The wonderful Dr. Kim of the Project Cambodia team (click here to read more about their work) that has provided so many onsite dental clinics through the years at our school held yet another dental clinic at our school when we traveled there to work with Leland High School’s student and parent volunteers. We finally met him while there!
Below are some photos of his selfless work at the clinic.
We received our 9th grade National Exam results: 100% of our students passed for the 3rd year in a row!!!
If students don't pass, their education is over--they can't go on to 10th grade. We've been one of the top village schools in the nation, based on exam results, for the last 8 years. One reason why: when we learned how passing the test was so important, we funded bonuses for all teachers and for the 9th grade students.
Students with average passing grades receive $15, above average $20, and excellent $25. The bonus for an excellent grade is equal to two weeks wages for a village adult. Before we did this, only 2% of students achieved an excellent passing grade, This year, over 40% did. During our last visit, board member Ken Colson finally got a chance to pass out the bonuses for last fall's test. And now the photos: students taking the test, Ken passing out bonuses, and the students posing for a group photo with Denise DeLong on the right and Ken hiding in the back.
The girls-only bathroom and new home for our scholarship girl and her father have been completed! Check out the photos below!
The girls-only bathroom (thanks again to the Paquier family):
The new home for our scholarship girl and her father:
Here's a great example of teachers' and students' initiative at our school:
During the West Valley Community College's Society of Global Citizens student and professor volunteer trip in January, student Isha Prabhakar, professors Tim Kelly and Andy Kindon, and board member Ken Colson started painting the entrance gate to our school. Ken paid for the cost of the paint and materials. They had to prep the gate by sanding off the blackened lichen first and so, didn't have time to finish.
Teachers and students at our school, led by our English/computer teacher Saveng, took the initiative to finish the work recently. Check out the before/after photos!
Every year we fund a field trip for the teachers at our school. This year they visited the spectacular clifftop Preah Vihear temple complex built during the height of the Khmer empire and Kampong Thom province. Check out the photos!