Seven years ago, I met Joji Tatsugi, the founder of TASSEL, and through him first learned about the great need in Cambodia. As soon as I heard the stories, I felt moved to help and have been involved with TASSEL since. I have also been visiting TASSEL Cambodia every summer since TASSEL started its summer program six years ago. The first year I went to Cambodia, I had some apprehension about taking a group of high school youths since I had never been there before and was unsure how safe it would be. However, as soon as we arrived at the airport, we were met by TASSEL teachers and drivers who took very good care of us and made us feel completely safe. In addition to making sure we were safe, Joji and the teachers painstakingly planned every detail of our trip so that every hour of every day was spent in the most meaningful way, serving and caring for the people. Joji has dedicated his life to TASSEL and I have been blessed to witness firsthand and close up how his sacrifice and genuine love for the people have transformed so many lives. Through his example and guidance, the Cambodian TASSEL teachers have also been transformed and have become exceptional people dedicated to serving the poor. They are among the kindest people I know and after visiting them for so many years, they have become like family to me.
From our first visit, our eyes and hearts opened to the needs of the people in Cambodia. Not only are the Cambodian people deprived of education, food, and medical care but many are in need of genuine love. After our third visit, some of us in our chapter helped start the family sponsorship program to help the poorest of the poor families who were in desperate need. Through the sponsorship program, we were able to connect caring families in the US with families in Cambodia to help with their specific needs and show continuous love and care. Collectively, we now sponsor almost forty Cambodian families. Our family has been privileged to sponsor many families over the years which deepened our love and connection with the people of Cambodia. Through the many generous adults involved in our chapter, we have also been able to raise funds for the new school building in Samrang Village as well as for ongoing medical needs and new homes for those families whose homes were destroyed by wind, floods or insects.
TASSEL has been an important part of my entire family’s life. Since the beginning of my involvement, my two sons, who were both in high school at the time, started teaching children over VSee. Although they initially started due to my prompting, they grew to love and serve TASSEL in their own unique way. My older son, who recently graduated from college, has been able to go to Cambodia every summer and stayed involved with TASSEL through college. Now as a working professional, he is still teaching, helping as TASSEL’s photographer and webmaster, and has recently started to sponsor a family of his own, whom he met last summer in Samlot village. Samlot is a remote village that has had to endure over 30 years of guerilla fighting, leaving the families in despair. My younger son, who is now a sophomore in college, has also remained involved through teaching, going in the summers and starting a TASSEL chapter at his university. My husband also visited Cambodia three years ago for the first time and has been going every year since. He started teaching a teacher after his first visit and has continued to teach him every week, even outside the regular teaching season. As for me, I have had the privileged to serve TASSEL in many ways over the years, as a chapter president, VSee teacher for children and teachers, TASSEL’s financial secretary helping with donor deposits and yearend tax filings as well as organizer of numerous TASSEL fundraising events. I am eager to serve TASSEL in any way I can, as long as I can, and give as much as I can because I share TASSEL’s mission to not only help the poor with education, food and medical care but to transform people from the inside out with love and compassion to give them hope. I also know that 100% of all donations are going to help the people and zero to administration costs since Joji willingly bears all of that burden himself.
What is also so wonderful about TASSEL is that it can be served by all generations. My mom, who is now almost 80 years old, has been fundraising and raising awareness about Cambodia since she first heard about the need there. She and her two friends started a recycling program, working tirelessly every day collecting cans and bottles to recycle and sending all the proceeds to TASSEL. My mom works from 9am to 5pm every day (even on weekends), driving around collecting recyclables from businesses, spurred by the knowledge that every cent she raises goes directly to help the needy in Cambodia. Through her work, she has not only inspired those in Cambodia but many friends, neighbors and the business owners she visits, who have been inspired to help as well. While it was my mom’s dream to go to Cambodia herself, she was unsure whether she could manage the 20-hour flight given her age, but she finally went for the first time two years ago and then again last year. She met in person the people she had been helping and it was truly a dream come true for her. She is now committed to going back every summer as long as she is able. While there was some concern for her health and well-being on the trip, the teachers and the students took such special care of her that she feels safer and more loved in Cambodia than at home.
Being involved with TASSEL over the years has been a life-changing experience for our family. We have each become more compassionate and caring and have been blessed to see so many people’s hearts and lives transformed for the better through the thoughtful way that TASSEL helps those in need.