I wanted to do something truly meaningful with my life but I wasn’t sure what that would be. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that it would lead me to Cambodia. I have been involved with TASSEL in Cambodia since 2015 and my involvement has given me purpose and fulfillment I was looking for.
It all began when a friend told me about a poor boy in Cambodia who wanted to go to school but couldn’t afford it. As a mother and a grandmother, I felt bad that this boy couldn’t have an education just because he was poor. I decided to sponsor him through TASSEL by sending money to support his tuition and living expenses. I was getting to know TASSEL and its mission and I liked that 100% of my giving went directly to the boy. The founder and director, Joji Tatsugi, works without salary so there is no extra fee for fundraising or administration. Still, I wanted to see for myself how TASSEL operated and meet the boy I was sponsoring. About a year into my sponsorship, I had an opportunity to go to Cambodia with a team from my church. Little did I know that the trip would change my life.
In the summer of 2016, I went to visit TASSEL schools in Battambang, Cambodia. I will never forget the warm and enthusiastic welcome we received from the children in Samrang school. Hundreds of cheering students lined the road leading to the school with banners and flags. I was taken aback by the unexpected and genuine reception. It was the best welcome I ever received. All the children were so eager to learn that it was a joy to teach them English. They looked happy and seemed to love coming to TASSEL school. I learned later that they were happy to receive lessons and love from the teachers because for most, TASSEL was an escape from their life of sadness, trauma, hunger and hardship at home.
When we did home visits, we got to hear families’ sad stories and see how they lived. I was dumbfounded at the condition in which they lived, with no clean running water, no electricity and no toilets. Some of the houses we saw were in such poor shape that we wondered how anyone could live in it. Many families dealt with issues like poverty, PTSD, hopelessness, hunger and parents abandoning children. There was a family with 3 boys that made a particular impact on me. Their parents were working illegally in Thailand and the boys were being raised by their grandmother. The oldest boy was about 10 years old and he looked weak. We learned that all he had for breakfast was water—and rainwater at that, which is their only source of water. A growing boy like that having dirty water for breakfast really broke my heart, and I couldn’t stop thinking about his situation. I felt like there was something we could do to help. That’s when we came up with family sponsorship program where we matched a donor in America with a needy Cambodian family to help with food.
Since that visit, I’ve returned to Cambodia every summer. TASSEL is now an important focus in my life. I so believe in what TASSEL is trying to accomplish, by teaching English to children for better future, by helping poor families with food, and by taking care of sick people who can’t afford good medical care. I find it worthwhile and meaningful to help and care for those who are stuck in despair and poverty. It is no surprise that I have come to love the Cambodians--children, families and TASSEL teachers alike—for they are pure and kind people, and it is my goal to help and give them hope for better life.