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Zoe Ong


Working with TASSEL has been an invaluable part of my life experience. As a high school student, I hardly knew what I was getting myself into – I believed this was just a way to serve and teach, defined in discrete 40-minute video calls to students in a distant country. This past summer, working with TASSEL through a Stanford fellowship, I stood among the students and teachers I had been so distant from before, knowing the trust, love, and hope we have in each other. We kept one another safe, accountable, and encouraged to do the work of bettering ourselves and our curriculum to better serve our students and neighbors. 

The communities that TASSEL has brought me to have shown me how much I have to learn about service, responsibility, and love. Service is hard work and requires a high level of responsibility. Despite working hard in high school and now as an undergraduate at Stanford, I have never worked as hard as I have with TASSEL this summer, where I worked side by side with TASSEL’s teachers. This summer, I worked as a teaching assistant at TASSEL’s school in Battambang, Cambodia and helped develop the 2019-2020 Writing Program. Every day I could see the effort and love the teachers put into their lessons. From their actions and our conversations together, I could see how much they believe in their students. Responsibility and love for their students and their country’s future was and is reflected in the teachers’ diligence. They prioritized my safety as well: two teachers, Teacher Angkear and Teacher Dalin, stayed with me to make sure I felt safe. If you’ve worked with TASSEL before, you know how much the teachers will go out of their way to show care. 

The actions of the Cambodian teachers to love and serve their students and students’ families remind me how much I can do to support those around me, no matter where I am. My motivation to learn is fueled by my experiences and my TASSEL family in Cambodia. At Stanford, this directs my educational career too. I’ve developed an interest in human rights and justice after my exposure to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and the resulting trauma that still exists in Cambodian society. 

Visiting Samlot village this past summer has only confirmed my passion for learning more in order to help others. Samlot is one of the most beautiful areas I have visited in my six years of visiting Cambodia to work with TASSEL. Rolling hills, green valleys, and farms full of fruit and flowers: Samlot is beautiful. But within the homes of those we visited, an uglier truth emerges. There is intense suffering as a result of the Khmer Rouge genocide, as Samlot houses many ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers who were forced to fight and slaughter. These soldiers, now just a few years older than my own parents, experience violent flashbacks, night terrors, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that go unaddressed and untreated. They want their grandchildren to have a better life, for the next generations to have a chance at a good education, and with TASSEL, we aim to provide access to English education by founding a school in their area. (As of now, most children in Samlot walk three hours to school.) The continued work of TASSEL to help Cambodian communities secure a better future inspires me to discover impactful ways to help others.  

In conclusion, almost anything good I can say about TASSEL is an understatement. My life is more full and more meaningful because of the experiences I’ve had with TASSEL, an organization built by people who are committed to selfless love and compassion, in order to better the future of Cambodia through its youth. Working with TASSEL is difficult sometimes because the issues are real and life-changing and heavy. What is defined as ‘normal life’ for many in Cambodia would be enough to cause a mental breakdown in my own: housing insecurity, food insecurity, health problems, lack of family support… and the list goes on. However, please don’t pity the people I serve and call family. Please partner with them and share the burden by providing what you may have: access to English education and a heart ready to listen, to grow and to care. 

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