Maggie Swafford

I heard about TASSEL during my freshman year of college. I decided that it might be a good way to spend my time and would look great on a resume. I soon learned that everyone in my chapter was an upperclassman, so I didn’t know any of them and was nervous to make any kind of mistake in front of them. I spent about four weeks wondering if I was even qualified to be in this organization, but my perspective on TASSEL changed completely when the founder, Joji Tatsugi, did an online presentation for our chapter about life in Cambodia. I remember sitting in a room for almost two hours, fascinated and heartbroken by the pictures I saw. That night, I went home to my college dorm room and told my roommate that I was going to Cambodia. I called my mom and told her that I was going to Cambodia. I told everyone that I was going to Cambodia. I didn’t have anyone’s permission to go, I had absolutely no money to pay for the tickets, I had never been out of the United States before, and I was going to have to travel from Michigan to Phnom Penh all by myself. And yet, I knew in my heart that I was going to Cambodia.

Being in Cambodia for the first time changed everything for me. It was not easy at first; I didn’t like the food that was foreign to me, I didn’t know how the kids or the Cambodian teachers would react to me, being the only white person in our group, and I didn’t understand how people could live in a place that was so hot – All. The. Time. Luckily for me, this experience showed me that I can handle the heat and that I’m privileged to know what constant air conditioning feels like. I also learned that southeast-Asian food is delicious. I don’t love everything, of course, but I crave a lot of the food for eleven months out of the year. And the kids? The kids welcomed me with open arms – literally. I’ve never gotten so many hugs at one time. The Cambodian teachers are some of my best friends and I miss them every day. I’m so blessed by the people that I’ve met because of TASSEL.

Before you join TASSEL, you should know that it is not just a resume-builder, like I once thought. It really is a family. It’s a year-long, all-in, love-from-the-other-side-of-the-world kind of family. Like all families, there are challenges about being part of it; the people of Cambodia have suffered the ramifications of a brutal genocide for decades. Your heart will break every time you hear a story about one of your students’ families living in dirt-poor poverty. Your stomach will ache when you visit a young girl with no home, who fishes for food in a dirty river so that she has something to eat. These stories are real, and it hurts me to know that this is the reality for most people in rural Cambodia. But I know that going there with food, clothes, and medicine is changing the future for this country and the world. I know that educating young children is an investment in the future that everyone should make. If education is an investment that you feel called to make, please consider learning more about/joining TASSEL. Be a part of the international family that lifts up and loves Cambodia.

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