My daughter and I started volunteering for TASSEL three years ago as soon as my daughter was old enough to be involved with the program. She taught phonics to young schoolchildren over the internet while I helped out as a writing teacher for one of the Khmer teachers. After the two of us, along with my husband, met the students and teachers in person that summer, we fell in love with them, and all three of us became more involved, with my husband joining in by teaching one of the Khmer teachers over the internet and my role expanding to manage our chapter’s writing program as well as now teaching “my” Khmer teacher over the internet. It has been so amazing to see the English skills of the students and teachers noticeably improve each year we go back to Cambodia! It is clear that the teachers all study very diligently in addition to their teaching duties and caring for the poor, fueled by their earnest desire to improve their beloved (but still crippled) country. My daughter is now a senior in high school and is preparing to start her fourth year teaching remotely. She has been so committed to her teaching role that last season she agreed to a class time slot that started at 12:30am local time – the lack of sleep was worth being able to teach a class where she was most needed in the TASSEL schedule.
As a family we have now visited Cambodia with TASSEL three times (and intend to continue our annual visits for the foreseeable future!). TASSEL's Khmer teachers make the summer program extremely memorable and rewarding, and we never have concerns about our personal safety or health while we are out there. At home, we are involved with fundraising efforts at our church, have sponsored three needy Cambodian families, and contribute toward the Khmer teachers’ payroll fund on a monthly basis. One family which we started sponsoring two years ago has six children and only one remaining parent, the father having committed suicide after feeling too overwhelmed by a mere $300 debt he had taken on to buy a fishing boat. The two older children had dropped out of elementary school in order to do farm work and fish to support their siblings. But because we have been able to sponsor the family through TASSEL, they can return to school. Our family saw them again this past summer and could see how much TASSEL has changed their lives. One truly heartening thing we have witnessed on our visits is to see for ourselves the life-changing, life-giving effect that sponsorship can have on a family’s life, and it is absolutely a joy when a family no longer needs sponsorship because they have managed to get on their feet and away from the precipice of being crushed by their extreme poverty. TASSEL not only provides free English lessons but more importantly, it delivers true hope and love to Cambodia’s neediest families.
No description of TASSEL could ever be complete without giving full credit to its founder, Joji Tatsugi. TASSEL is Joji’s creation and he is the heart and soul of the organization. It is solely through Joji’s tireless efforts that TASSEL is able to function, and he is the one who enables us foreigners to come and serve each summer without having to be concerned for our safety or comfort – he coordinates everything down to the smallest detail, from local transportation to every single meal during our stay, to the jam-packed schedule that fully and effectively utilizes every minute we are there. More importantly however, he is constantly nurturing, challenging and growing the Cambodian teachers, caring for the students and the poorest families from the students’ villages, managing TASSEL’s funds (with complete transparency down to the last penny), coordinating the curriculum and the worldwide teaching schedule, and even personally taking the sickest villagers to Phnom Penh and oftentimes Thailand for better medical care. Joji’s sincere and deep love for the TASSEL teachers, students, and needy family members is apparent to anyone who witnesses him and he has inspired my family to try to help out in whatever tangential way we can.