Why Cambodia

The notorious   Tuol Sleng S21 prison, converted from a high school during the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, located in the heart of downtown Phnom Penh. Today, it is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, one of the places visited on the 9th grade field trip we fund every year.

The notorious Tuol Sleng S21 prison, converted from a high school during the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, located in the heart of downtown Phnom Penh. Today, it is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, one of the places visited on the 9th grade field trip we fund every year.

 

We chose to build a school in Cambodia to help restore village children's access to education, so systematically and unspeakably destroyed during the genocide which occurred under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime when at least 1/5 of Cambodia's people were senselessly massacred in just under four years, from 1975-1979. 

Pol Pot's horribly realized goal of creating an agrarian utopia especially targeted those who were educated. An estimated 90% of Cambodian artists, musicians, and dancers were murdered in those four years. The Khmer Rouge used simple ways to determine a person's disloyalty to the regime. Some examples of this criteria: if a person wore glasses, was a teacher or student, or simply had 'soft' hands, they, at first, were forced to undergo 're-education' through  harsh labor in fields that worked many to death. Later, a person could be executed simply for 'thinking' or causing another to think.

One of the most tragic stories I heard was this: a woman saw an old man carrying a bowl of soup over a rutted dirt road. She called out to him, "Elder, watch out where you're walking; you could spill your soup." A village neighbor heard her and, to ingratiate herself with the Khmer Rouge, told them what the woman said. She was convicted of causing the old man to think. That night, a Khmer Rouge soldier slashed her throat using a palm frond so she would bleed to death slowly while her village applauded.

The Khmer Rouge completely destroyed Cambodia's educational system. Schools were turned into prisons such as Tuol Sleng S21, stables, reeducation camps and granaries. We chose to build a school in a remote village to, in one small way, give children a chance to create a better future for themselves and for their families. 

The catalyst which showed us how we could accomplish this came when, on New Years Day, 2007 we read an article written by N. Y. Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff reprinted in our San Jose Mercury newspaper. Click on the button below to read his article:

My wife Denise and I discovered, from reading his article, that we could build a school for about $20,000. In 2004, I had started a student charity group at the middle school where I taught, Bret Harte Middle School in San Jose, that did fundraising for local and global causes. From those fundraising experiences, we realized that, with a school-wide effort involving parents and our Almaden community, our student charity group of committed middle school students could raise the necessary funds. 

We started planning the school after Denise and I visited Cambodia over February President's Week vacation to check out the quality of education provided by the non-profit organization that would build and then provide in-country support of our programs, American Assistance for Cambodia (now renamed World Assistance for Cambodia. We were very impressed with the dedication of those we met who worked for AAfC and the schools operating through their Rural Schools Project. 

When we returned to San Jose, 57 local middle and high school students volunteered their help to organize and run a silent auction. On one night in mid-May, thanks to the donations of items by so many businesses and individuals and the generosity of so many families and Almaden community neighbors, we raised the needed funds to build the Doris Dillon School (read the section "Who Is Doris Dillon?" on the 'About' page). Please watch our video "Ten Years in Cambodia", found on the 'About' page to find out more about all of the work so many have done since that magical day in May 2007 when our dream to provide education to children in a remote village crystallized into a place where that dream would come true.