Wicked Local Cambridge
Cambridge —If Pennies for Peace could build schools in Afghanistan by collecting only pennies, thought Heather Faris and Erika Wentworth, then Cambridge residents could certainly collect enough money to build a school in Cambodia.
Inspired by that movement and by Greg Mortenson's story, “Three Cups of Tea,” Faris and Wentworth, Cambridge parents, formed Camb2Camb, a volunteer project that raised money to build a school in rural Cambodia. Now, about three years after the project began, the school in Cambodia is complete and 13 students, teachers and community members traveled there for nine days in February to visit the school, learn about Cambodian culture and hold a dedication ceremony.
“I think this type of experience has really opened up all of our eyes to the rest of the world. All of us have a better understanding for different cultures, environments, and ways of living,” said Lucy Flamm, a junior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School who went on the trip, in an e-mail interview.
The project traveled via “word of mom,” said Faris and Wentworth. Several local businesses donated to the project and some became corporate sponsors.
Community fundraising from Oct. 2007 to June 2008 helped raise $24,000, the amount needed to build a school, complete with two computers, three solar panels for energy, and assisting staff, said Heather Faris, co-founder of the project. Members of the Cambodian Ministry of Education, a partner in this project, built the school and employ the staff there, said Faris.
“Due to the genocide which happened 30 years ago, Cambodia is still struggling to reconstruct itself and this is taking a serious toll on education, said Flamm.
Eight students, six from Cambridge Rindge and Latin and two seventh-graders from other Cambridge schools, were selected through an application process. Yard sales, luncheons, and donations funded the trip, said Flamm.
“Already a mature, thoughtful, and knowledgeable group, they became even more so,” said Faris about the students.
Faris described the daily activities on the trip:
With a blizzard delaying their flight, the group had to condense the first day in Cambodia. The group split up; some went to observe a public hearing for the wife of a man in a Khmer Rouge tribunal trial, while others visited Koh Dach to watch the traditional weaving in the village.
The Khmer Rouge were a violent regime, responsible for the deaths of about 1.7 million people, according to the Cambodia Information Center.
The group then brought donated medical supplies to The Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope in Phnom Penh. They dined with Arn Chorn-Pond, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge tribunals and founder of the Cambodia Living Arts.
Prior to the trip, the students had researched different topics that they would encounter in Cambodia, such as human trafficking, women’s rights, and the Khmer Rouge tribunals. One of the required pre-departure readings was “The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodia Heroine” by Somaly Mam.
The group shared a dinner with Mam, where she spoke about her experience as a sex slave and about how she freed 4,000 other girls, according to the project’s website.
The following day, the group visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. From there, older students went to “S21,” the Tuol Sleng Prison. They met Chun Mey, one of three living survivors of the prison. Before heading to the dedication ceremony for the Cambridge School, the group visited an orphanage of children whose parents had died of AIDS.
The high school students kept a blog while on the trip.
“I CAN’T STOP SMILING!” wrote Violet Brooks-Doucette in one of her posts. “Everyday I reflect on what we did and I say to myself, ‘today was the greatest day of my life,’ then the next day I say the exact same thing!” Violet wrote.
The group joined the students of the Cambridge School in a dedication ceremony, where they played games, sports, and shared in dance. The traveling group donated supplies and gifts to the Cambodian students, including J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter,” translated into Khmer, the language of Cambodia, Faris said.
Both Brookline and Lowell schools are working with Cambridge on similar projects, Faris said.
“Cambridge leads the way, said Faris in an e-mail. “By forging new alliances within Cambridge to achieve our goals, we hope to enhance our children’s identity as residents of this diverse and illustrious city.”
Camb2Camb will hold a presentation at the Kennedy-Longfellow School within the next few weeks. They will be planning future fundraising events for the rest of the year, including a fundraising dinner in October, to be held at a local Cambridge restaurant.
“The next step of the project is really to work to strengthen this connection and make sure it stays strong for the future,” said Flamm.