Ruth Lee

I got involved with TASSEL in college through a friend who knew Joji from high school. As a
freshman in Hope College, I participated in a diversity initiative program where I learned of the wider
deprivation that women and men face worldwide in terms of education and healthcare. Upon hearing
about the tragedies that stemmed from lack of education, I felt compelled to take action. Truthfully,
however, part of me also wanted to feel better about myself by doing something good to the society. At the time, I was struggling with my status as an undocumented student, and I was full of self-pity and
anger. I didn’t want to be at Hope, and my life seemed like a mistake. I kept questioning whether God had a purpose in me. With these ulterior motives, I decided to help establish a TASSEL chapter at Hope, only to fulfill my selfish heart. However, I grew ashamed when I heard from Joji about Cambodian children walking 10 km a day just to attend class and fainting because they didn’t have any food to eat. Education meant life or death to them. And here I was, complaining about how I had to wake up at 8:45am to attend a 9am class located 5 minutes away from my dorm. The stories of children being abandoned by adults suffering from PTSD after the Khmer Rouge genocide also shattered my heart. This led me to realize that, despite my trials with my undocumented status, I have been beyond blessed with teachers and mentors, including my loving mother, who nourished me and encouraged me to pursue higher education. I am living a life that the majority of women and men in the world cannot afford to dream of. After Joji’s presentation about why TASSEL exists, I gained a transformed heart that yearned to serve God through TASSEL and was determined to help empower the youth in Cambodia through education.

Throughout college, the students’ enthusiasm and gratitude for just a few hours a week of my
time filled me with joy as well as humility. Even at the end of a rough day, I looked forward to working
with them who constantly inspired me by their desire to learn. Despite not having enough food, the kids yelled English words we taught at the top of their lungs, hungry for more knowledge. The local teachers I interacted with worked passionately to improve their English for the kids while pursuing their own college education. Though recruiting committed student volunteers and running fundraisers for our chapter were challenging, I was thankful to have the opportunity to make small contributions to bettering Cambodia, knowing that our efforts were not in vain in God and 100% of all donations went directly to help people with education and medicine. Although I am not able to travel to Cambodia to meet them physically, they have always been in my prayers, even after I left Hope. As a current graduate student at Northwestern University, I am returning to TASSEL as an instructor because I am humbled by the students’ bright smiles and dedication to learning despite the difficult situations surrounding them. Furthermore, I am inspired by Joji’s genuine love for the local students, teachers and community. Serving in TASSEL has been a transformative experience, and I am grateful to be part of the community again oceans away from Cambodia.

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