Appreciation notes from Center for creative Living, Asheville, North Carolina,USA
About a year and a half ago, I met an extraordinary Cambodian American named Sambonn Lek in Washington , DC . Sam has been building schools and helping children in Cambodia through his non profit 501(3)(c) organization, SAM Relief, Inc. for the past five years.
My daughter, Olivia, was adopted in 2001 from an orphanage in the Bakou Village of the Kandal Province which is located south of Phnom Penh . She was nine and a half months old when I went to Cambodia to bring her home. It was my first visit to Cambodia . When I went to her orphanage for the first time, I was met by 125 children who had rehearsed songs in English to welcome me. They smiled, laughed and were so happy to see me and to receive the toys that I had brought to them. There was no furniture, no plumbing, no toys and very little food for the orphans in this simple orphanage that resembled a campground. There was also no real opportunity for these orphans for a better life.
As a new mother, and a first time visitor to this desperate country, I was absolutely heart broken to see children living the way that they did. I cried many tears over the hopelessness of so many children. I had never personally experienced firsthand this type of poverty as it related to children, not to mention the stories of human trafficking that I had heard was predominant among the children, especially the children who are orphans in Cambodia . As I looked into my beautiful daughter's face and cuddled her in my arms, I felt the blessing of being able to bring one little girl child home with me and the relief of one less child on the streets of Cambodia. I also wanted to do more.
I was deeply moved to action and was getting ready to begin another adoption from the same orphanage, when the U.S. State Department shut down adoptions from Cambodia and stopped issuing visas to grant entrance to Cambodian children who had been adopted by Americans. I waited four years for the United States to re-open Cambodian adoptions. It still has not happened. We, as Americans, cannot take any of these children into our homes by way of adoption at this current time. There are approximately 200,000 or more orphaned children in Cambodia , many are beautiful and smart children who just need a chance.
SAM Relief, Inc. gave me the opportunity to give some of those children a different kind of chance, a chance for an education. In Cambodia only 46% of the villages have a primary school. Many of the children do not get a chance to get to a school if it is not within walking distance due to the risks involved.
SAM Relief, Inc. builds two schools a year in Cambodia . I asked Sambonn Lek, the President and founder of this relief organization, to build a school on behalf of my daughter, Olivia, in the village where her orphanage is located. Sam agreed. All I had to do was raise $20,000.
I had never taken on this type of project before, but I knew that my heart was in it for the children, so I just started asking people to help me out, either with a donation or a way to raise money. The church I belonged to in Asheville , North Carolina held a fundraising campaign and raised almost $7,000. I had an open house and "tag sale" at my home in northern Virginia and raised $1,800. A friend of mine in North Carolina held a silent auction at her home and raised $1,100, and it began from there. I sold scarves from Cambodia at Christmas for $15 each and got donations of $50 and $100 in exchange. A friend at work helped me send an email out to some of my co-workers. Checks began coming in the mail. My manager let me speak about the school at a company meeting. More checks came in the mail and word of mouth spread. More and more people began to participate to help make this dream happen.
In the end, we raised $22,000 from over 235 people plus the church congregation. The money was raised one donation at a time with no donation less than $10 or more than $1,000. With every donation, I grew more and more convinced that people really do care and they really do want to help, all you have to do is ask and then show them a way.
If you think about it, $22,000 is very little for what we were able to accomplish. We built a new school, provided books, pencils, pens, shoes, medical supplies, t-shirts, rice, and teachers for 750 children. We impacted a village and will change the lives of 750 children forever. In Cambodia , 56% of the population is under the age of 19 years. The future of this country depends on the education, care and safety of the children.
We dedicated "Olivia's School" in the Bakou Village of the Kandal Province on August 8, 2005 . Since Olivia's 5 th birthday was August 11, 2005 , we decided to really make it an event and have a birthday party and a ribbon cutting at the same time. Sam ordered a cake and 750 cupcakes and bottles of water for the children. They learned how to sing "Happy Birthday" in English and sang and cheered as Olivia blew out her candles. It was one of the best birthday parties that I have ever attended. We gave the school and we got the love and hope of 750 children in return.
Now that we are back to the comfort of our home and our life in Virginia , we are reliving this experience through our pictures and memories. Just thinking of the hope of those dear children tells me that we are not stopping with just one school.
The children at the orphanage eat a bowl of rice only once a day. They need vitamin enriched food as well as medicine. They need to be encouraged to continue with their education and go to the school. However, the new school is small and the children must attend in shifts, and there is no junior high school. There is continuous need for food and medicine, shoes and books for all the children of the village.
By going to Cambodia to see "Olivia's School"and to attend the dedication was to meet the children and see how much having this school means to them. I saw how the money that we worked so hard to raise was put to work. I saw how diligent Sambonn Lek and his family as well as the board of trustees for Sam Relief, Inc. work to make sure that every penny that is donated is well spent and applied 100% to the mission of helping the children and building the schools. I am proud and grateful for what we did, for what we all did, all 235 or so, plus SAM Relief, Inc. and I pray that next year we can do more.
A Letter from Pete and Rose Sather
Our trip to Cambodia was the most profound experience of our lives.
Our trip started as just talk and before we knew it materialized into a definite plan, airline tickets, and finally the day of departure. We read guidebooks beforehand, but we would never have been prepared for the things we did, the lives we touched, and the people we met.
After arriving at the airport, we went to our hotel in Phnom Penh to meet Leknah, the first of our sponsored children. Her mother worked as a hotel maid, and she was expecting our arrival. She walked into our room with a timid and shy look on her face, and her mother and grandfather in tow. The first few moments were very emotional, it was a moment where Rose didn't know how to respond, she was nervous, anxious, and had so much to say.
They managed through translation, to chat about her studies, her health, and her general well being. Her father took her brother, and abandoned her mother with two young daughters. Her mother and the girls live with her father and the mother spends long hours at the hotel trying to make a life for her daughters. Without our sponsorship, it is doubtful they would be able to attend school or have any hope for a future.
After we said our goodbyes amid emotional blessings, our group drove about 3 hours out to the coastal town of Kep . It was a beautiful beach town, very calm and pristine. The purpose of our visit was to meet the second girl that we sponsor, Imsotheary. We pulled into the orphanage where about fifty or so children, ranging in ages from 2 -25 were waiting for us. We were saddened to learn that the majority of the Cambodian orphans do not have much hope for a successful future if they are not adopted, as there aren't enough resources in the orphanage to provide sufficient schooling. Many children do not receive and education, and are thus unable to obtain jobs or leave the orphanage and become independent. Imsotheary was a ray of sunshine, she was all smiles, and was very outgoing and seemed to have much to say. She said she thought of us- her sponsors, and it made her happy to think of us and she considered us her parents. She also said she hoped to maintain sponsorship to attend school, and her dream is to become a judge because she sees so much injustice in the world and wants to change things for the better. We think of her every day and want to do all that we can to help her achieve and her dreams; she makes us truly happy.
The rest of our trip was a tour through various provinces meeting children with less opportunity or hope for a successful future, children hoping for the chance to attend school and have clothes to wear and food to eat. We visited other orphanages and hospitals, and we were overcome with emotion and the feeling of hopelessness that pervaded. The orphanages and hospitals lacked proper funding to provide heath care and meals to the children who reside there.
During our visit, we distributed medical supplies, clothes, and candy to as many families as we could. Though we brought three huge suitcases full of clothing and supplies, when we got there, it didn't seem we had brought enough. We had the opportunity to change so many lives with our donations - and we had no idea how profound it was until we actually met those receiving our gifts and saw the gratitude on their faces. We had donated consistently, but had never before worked "in the trenches" distributing the supplies and truly thinking of the beneficiaries. On our trip, we saw the other perspective, the happiness that we caused when the Cambodian people saw that we care, that we are compassionate, and that we want to help. There is no greater feeling in the world than to be able to save a life- save a life through sending a child to school, providing meals, health care, and an opportunity for a decent life. And it costs us so little - the impact is huge and many of us have NO idea.
Samrelief's President, Sambonn Lek, is an inspiration for us all. Sam is a selfless, energetic angel, with the biggest heart ever. He sacrifices much for the greater good of all Cambodians. With support from his wonderful family, Sam is able to have people volunteer their time to provide services that allow him to donate 100% of the profit to building schools, buying books, paper, pencils, providing cold medicines and vitamins, and giving children who have no hope the opportunity for a better life.
Without an education, many children in South East Asia add to the staggering statistics of poverty and hopelessness. Samrelief rescues these children from unspeakable hardship and difficulty, and allows them the opportunity for a positive future.
Pete and Rose Sather