Over two years ago, we got a bonus at Google, and some coworkers and I decided that we wanted to donate it. So we met a couple times, picked an organization, and sent them about $14000, which after Google matched it, became $28000. That organization was American Assistance for Cambodia, and that $28000 was more than enough to build a school in rural Cambodia.
Yesterday, Raph and I, along with Chamroeurn from AAfC, got to visit that school. Wow! There are 138 students who now have a place to study.
They had an opening ceremony with local officials and all the students. As one of the donors, I was asked to give a short speech. This was all a bit weird, but I guess for every school that AAfC opens, they hold an opening ceremony. This was the kind of thing I hated as a kid. I can't imagine it was fun for anyone. Well, at least it was kinda short.
But then we got to visit the classrooms and talk with the students. This was kind of awkward too (what do you ask a group of 40 9th-graders that you share no languages with?) but it was fun to just hang out with the students for a while. They seemed pretty enthusiastic. A lot friendlier and more eager than my friends and I in middle school. I got a sense that they saw this school as an opportunity, not just some dumb place they had to go.
Some info about the school: it's a 7th-9th grade school, AKA "secondary." After the students finish, they can go to the high school, which is 30km away- a 40 minute drive, if you have a ride. They learn a bunch of subjects- Khmer, English, math, physics, chemistry, biology, history, and more I guess. Our money paid for the school's construction, while the teachers are paid by the Ministry of Education. (which means that the school won't stop running if the money we donated runs out.)
It's awesome that this school is here. It's way out in the sticks, 2 hours off the main road; if these students didn't have this school, I don't know how they'd get to another school. It's in the Samlot district, in the Battambang province. This was an area with a lot of fighting. When Chamroeurn asked the 8th grade class how many of their parents were (conscripted) Khmer Rouge soldiers, about 80% of the class raised their hands. This is a place that needed a school.
Some downsides: it's just 3 rooms. Few improvements, no electricity. When they asked what we should do with the extra money, we said "whatever you think is best for the school." Apparently, our lack of decision has led to the money sitting in the bank. But it's clear that the one thing that students and teachers both want most is computers, so I can ask AAfC to spend the money on computers and solar panels.
After visiting the classrooms, we took pictures and played games, as classes were over for the day. I only got about 2 hours total to spend there before we had to head back- it was about a 6-hour drive from Siem Reap, where we were staying and where Jay was recovering. But still, great to see that our money's gone to a great cause, and that they seem to be doing well.
Towards the end, the English teacher, even though he's the one doing the hard work and we just wrote some checks, approached me and said: "Thank you for giving me a school."
Lots more photos here (thanks to Raph!)