Choum reap sor! Hello! My name is Yoli and I am a proud TASSEL volunteer. Tassel has been one of the most impactful experiences of my life that has shaped my positive attitude towards the world and given me meaning.
After my first visit to Cambodia as a tourist, I was exposed to the horrors of genocide and poverty. What I was most struck by were not the beautiful temples of Angkor Wat but the suffering people who were completely ignored by the tourists. I was immediately sparked with a passion to act and that’s how I miraculously discovered Tassel at my school, South Pasadena High School. I met with the dedicated volunteers who led the chapter at my school and listened to how they helped promote the well-being of the very people I had sympathized for the summer prior. That’s when I made one of the most confident decisions of my life which was to join Tassel. Not for a day have I regretted it.
I quickly began my work at home. I took on many tasks my first year such as fundraising, teaching a wonderful Khmer teacher Malaya, and even helping check the quality of writing instructor corrections. I felt that I was doing good, sufficient work, until I returned to Cambodia once more but this time as a Tassel volunteer. I was met with poverty and suffering unlike any I had ever seen before. To this day I can still clearly remeber the voices filled with sorrow and the faces that had seen so much pain as I listened to the stories of families who had endured genocide, hunger, loss of loved ones, and all kinds of hardship. I so clearly remember two children who we met walking out into the rice fields covered in murky water, whose names remain with me but I will not share to protect their privacy. I watched as they waded in the water, catching snails to sell for what little money they could earn. I could not move as they came up to us volunteers and began to unravel their stories of nothing but abandonment, hard labor, and sorrow. They had the bodies of children but the eyes of a person who had lived 100 lives. I could not understand how these two survived, how they could be put in such an unfair and horrible situation while I enjoyed all the luxuries of life such as education, food, and a loving home. My mind was clustered with anxiety and hopelessness but there was one ray of hope and that was and continues to be Tassel.
I took the challenge head on after understanding that there was so much more I could do. With the families and children we visited ingrained in my heart and mind, I offered more of my time and effort. The day I returned to my home in California, I donated more than half of my earnings from my summer job. From there, my enthusiasm swept me into a variety of tasks from developing new curriculum to further improve the Khmer teachers’ English to leading the entire Global Quality Control team that checked every writing teachers’ corrections. I was ecstatic to teach the same Khmer teacher once again, now twice a week, and proudly admired how much her English improved.
My third trip to Cambodia and my second trip with Tassel, I spent nearly a month in Battambang, nearly two weeks longer than the other volunteers. I worked on a project to further improve the writing program with volunteers from the Singapore chapter. I spent more time in the classroom passionately teaching English. But I was most struck by the village of Samlout, quite possibly one of the poorest villages, and was moved to immediately take action by giving money that would feed some of the poorest families. Next summer, I hope to visit these families and share my love with them in person.
So where has my passion and motivation come from? For me, it comes from the very people I work so hard to help. The students I enjoyingly teach are children who are exactly the same as those I visited in that rice paddy. Unlike me, they were not born with opportunities to easily attend school. They worked hard to make a living for their broken families, struggled to find food, or were unable to learn as a result of poverty. It is my students that inspire me to work twice as hard in university and for Tassel. But what would these students be if it were not for our relentlessly dedicated Khmer teachers? It is our Khmer teachers who are in the schools every day, exhausted yet motivated, giving students opportunities to the rights that were stripped away from them. I have never witnessed such dedication, sacrifice, and devotion that comes from the hearts of our Khmer teachers and I wish to reflect that. They also gave something so powerful yet absent in the lives of their students: love. Seeing love in every aspect of the students, families, and teachers of Tassel, I cannot help but feel endless love myself. Tassel promotes not just education and basic human rights but also love and compassion. That, is why I continue to exponentially help and dedicate my time to Tassel.
The rewards of helping others is an amazing feeling, but it is not the only reason I encourage you to join our cause. We work hard and together as a team because it is our duty as human beings to promote the well-being of others. I cannot be healthy or happy when there are others suffering and dying because they were born into misfortune. I am not free and you are not free when there are people exactly like you and me chained to poverty and hardship who are just as deserving of education, freedom, and love. Tassel is my family and it can be yours to.
Whether you’re entering the schools of Tassel in Cambodia or beginning your first VSEE lesson, you will be delightfully greeted by laughing and happy faces and a constant flow of love. In Tassel you do not only give but receive, more than you could imagine in the form of gifts, hugs, and a sense of belonging. I can promise you, Tassel was one of the best decisions of my life, for I know I will continue to serve my Cambodian family for many years to come. Join our family, we will all welcome you with open arms.