I started getting involved with TASSEL about five years ago when a church member asked if I could sponsor a Cambodian family. I would sponsor a boy named Ran, who was described to me as kind, soft-spoken, and very caring of his family, and his parents and younger brother. Both Ran and his mother were HIV positive. I agreed in order to help a very poor family in a desperate situation, but I did not know how the sponsorship would change my own life.
In 2018, I met Ran and his family. I went to Cambodia with my church members to meet them and to visit the TASSEL schools and teachers I heard so much about. I was not prepared to be received with such an incredible welcome by the students and teachers at TASSEL schools. I had never felt so much love and received so many hugs and “I love you, teacher!” that I lost count after the first hour. But, nothing could have prepared me for meeting Ran’s mother who, as soon as we met, hugged me and started sobbing uncontrollably. I realized then how desperate and hopeless she had felt and how she saw me as the lifeline for her family. From that point on, I became forever bonded with Ran’s family and knew that I would care for them as long as I am able.
That year, I was asked by Joji, TASSEL’s founder and headmaster, to give a speech to the students about my life and career. I had given many such speeches to young people in America, but I soon realized that my speech had to be changed for the Cambodian students. By then, I had seen shocking poverty and heard tragic stories during our home visits in rural Cambodia. Children were often abandoned by their parents and left with relatives or neighbors, some people lived in makeshift shacks with gaps and holes in walls and roofs, sick people had no expectation of decent medical care or treatment, and the families had no hope that their children would have better lives. I also realized that TASSEL was the key to improving their lives, where they would learn English, learn to love and be kind to each other, and learn to support each other so that their entire community can improve and prosper. When I finally gave my speech, I was convinced that there was hope for the students and their families through TASSEL and I pledged in my heart to support TASSEL for the people of Cambodia, who I came to love very much.