Effecting Cambodia From Cambridge, MA

Bard College Center for Civic Engagement Blog
July 1, 2012

By Lucy Flamm,
Bard College 2012 Community Action Award Winner, former Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School student and Cambcamb Summer Intern

Cambridge is known for its higher education systems. Innovation is constantly stemming from Harvard, M.I.T., Lesley, and the other universities in the city. As a community, education is prized for what it has the possibility to create. The general consensus is that it has a key role in the economic and cultural development of not just our own community, but any nation. The Cambridge Cambodia School Project reflects not the concept that an urban, education-oriented city could impact an entire nation; but with the belief that all have the ability to make little decisions that can make big changes for others. Four years ago, penny drives within the thirteen public schools in Cambridge in tandem with corporate donations and fundraising dinners helped to reach the $24,000 needed to build the Cambridge School in Cambodia through the American Assistance for Cambodia. My work this summer with The Cambridge Cambodia School Project reflects Cambridge’s grass-roots effort to build bridges with different communities across the globe in sustainable ways.

Initially, the project was solely dedicated to raising funds to build The Cambridge School in Cambodia but since then the goal of the organization have shifted. The school is located in a place where otherwise, there would not be a school. The village, which I had the opportunity to visit myself three years ago, is about as isolated as you can get. The form of transportation is bike, and without The Cambridge School any educational facility would be miles and miles away. Such a fact provides challenges of its own. In a community of poverty where students who if not at school would be working to provide money for their families, how do you encourage them to stay in school? Simply the concept of gaining an education is not enough incentive. As a group we work to brainstorm ways to solve such problems such as exploring the use of monetary compensation for attending school. This allows students to provide for their family as they need to whilst limiting the motive for students to drop out which often leads to exploiting themselves sexually.

After the school was built the Cambridge community fundraised to send six students and two teachers of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, the Cambridge public school, to Cambodia. The endeavor allowed for a cultural exchange members of the community might otherwise never get to experience. In addition, Cambridge students also visited relevant NGO’s, and met with inspiring leaders of social reform such as Somaly Mam ( and Arn Chorn Pond ( and the Cambridge School in Cambodia. Upon arriving back to Cambridge, MA multiple events were held to engage the Cambridge community in the accomplishments of the school and what could be done from there on out to further aid the community in Cambodia we had connected with. The work of the organization now reflects these new goals. It has now been three years since the first trip of Cambridge public school students and teachers to Cambodia. Now, there is another trip being planned for January 2014. I will be gathering corporate donations in the next few weeks for such fundraising allows for students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to travel to be able to experience a culture so different from their own whilst engaging with contacts in Phnom Penh who can better guide the organization to address education in rural Cambodia in efficient and viable ways.

Much of my work will be in relation to media. I will be launching both a Facebook and Twitter page so the project can truly be more viral. With the project based solely on the volunteer work of Cambridge residents it is often hard to communicate the little on-goings of the organization with the exception of quarterly newsletters. Having a Facebook page will change this and will allow for mass communication in a less-formal medium. In addition, updating the website which shares information from a few months ago will be a key part of my job. All of those who are part of the Cambridge Cambodia School Project do so as a volunteer. It is very hard to dedicate time to the small things, so much of my time will be spent doing these important but necessary tasks. This will allow for closer connection with not only the Cambridge community, but some of our international peers and contacts.

You never know what Bard students may be up to with their summers… So for any of those exploring South East Asia and the kingdom of Cambodia, The Cambridge School is located in Kauk Rovieng village, in the district of Cheung Prey and the Province of Kampong Cham! Feel free to visit! I hope everyone is enjoying their summers as a much as I am! Further updates coming soon…


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

Spare Change News
January 17, 2011
By Robert Sondak

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.”


Hands-on Help for Cambodia: School Project offers
Education in Caring, Sharing

Boston Globe
May 11, 2008

By Victoria Cheng

Four letters may not be a lot, but it’s enough to underpin a $20,000 fund-raising effort to build a school in rural Cambodia. Calling itself the Cambridge School for Cambodia (and Camb-Camb for short), the campaign brings together students, businesses, and several groups across the city, some with deep ties to Cambodia and some who have always called Cambridge home.

Rachael Harkavy, a fifth-grade student at the King Open School, started learning about Cambodia in January when she and her peers in the school’s fifth through eighth grades joined the effort by hosting weekly penny drives. She reels off statistics about the country that highlight how Cambodia compares with the United States. “It’s about the size of Oklahoma and has the population of Pennsylvania,” she began.

Camb-Camb is raising money to send to American Assistance for Cambodia, a nonprofit organization run by former Newsweek journalist Bernie Krisher, that has built more than 400 schools across the country.

“We’ll be the 405th school, but it’s not enough,” Harkavy added. “Massachusetts is about half the size of Cambodia and has about 1,000 schools, so that just brings into perspective how many schools Cambodia needs.”

The planned Camb-Camb school will be 40 miles north of Phnom Penh and accommodate between 200 and 400 students. Krisher started the initiative in 1993 and negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank that called for it to match whatever money he raised for the project. The cost of a school, Krisher said, “is actually about $30,000, and the donor only pays about $13,000.” By contributing an extra $7,000, the Cambridge School for Cambodia will be able to equip its school with an English teacher, solar panels for a computer, and Internet access, he said.

Longteine de Monteiro owns the Elephant Walk restaurants, which feature French and Cambodian cuisine at locations in Cambridge, Boston, and Waltham. The Cambodian native explained that outside assistance is sorely needed in the country, which was devastated first by the spillover effects of the Vietnam War and then by genocide during the brutal rule of the communist Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

“The government now doesn’t really do much to help education,” she said, “so all the foundations from outside of the country who go there and build whatever the country needs, especially schools and hospitals, are very important.”

When Camb-Camb contacted de Monteiro to explore opportunities for collaboration, she agreed to host a benefit dinner at her North Cambridge restaurant early last month.

“We served the meal that we usually serve on New Year’s Day in Cambodia,” which is April 15, de Monteiro said. “We did chicken curry, Salade Cambodgienne, and beef short ribs with green coconut juice.”

The event raised enough money to bump Camb-Camb’s funds to the $13,300 mark and also gave attendees like East Boston resident Selena Sang, whose family is Cambodian, a chance to revive memories of childhood traditions.

“My parents live in California,” she said, adding that she had not eaten a traditional Cambodian New Year meal since moving here. The event also gave de Monteiro an opportunity to showcase a prominent part of Cambodian culture – its cuisine – and the desire to teach Cantabrigians about this small country perched on the southeastern peninsula of Asia.

At the King Open School, Rachael and fellow fifth-grader Eliza Klein have made it their goal to involve younger students in the project. “In the library we have a display with recipes and books and how to make origami elephants,” Klein explained. “We don’t want to be collecting money from people and having them say, `Oh, we’re sending it across the world to do blah blah blah.’ We want them to really understand it, so that then they’ll feel closer.”

Before classes one day earlier this month, the girls helped set up an origami table at the school entrance, along with an empty water jug inviting donations of spare change. Sixth-grader Brianna Lavelle patiently guided the younger students through the steps of folding a colorful square of paper into the shape of a crane.

“See all these points here?” she said, indicating the triangular sections where the corners met. “Point it down and fold it like this,” she instructed, pressing the edge of a flap against the table.

Eventually, the students managed to fold their pieces of paper into diamond-shaped creations that they then bent to create long necks and pointed tails.

“What is this for?” asked 6-year-old Bianca Byfield, as she handed over her crane to be placed on a large branch of a tree that will eventually hold 400.

“Every crane represents one child who will go to school in Cambodia,” said Lavelle’s mother, Risa. “And all of Cambridge is helping raise money.”