From Horror to Hope: SCAO Education Fights Poverty in Cambodia
Educators / May 12, 2016
Flipboard MagMaker Janette Leon-Speyer takes us inside an inspiring project in Cambodia and the Flipboard Magazines that help to tell the story of a home for street kids that’s making a big difference in some young lives.
In 2009 I visited Cambodia. Like everyone else, I was interested in going to Siam Reap to visit Angkor Wat. We had a couple of days to spend in Phnom Penh. My daughter had just been there a couple of weeks ago and she suggested we visit an orphanage. “Bring a bag of rice, toys and toothbrushes for the children,” she said.
So we embarked on a tuk-tuk ride to the outskirts of the city. It seemed like forever as we navigated through the dirt roads to the little village.
Greeting us at the door of the orphanage was Mr. Sath Sameth, an incredibly friendly man to whom I took an immediate liking. When I excitedly asked if we could see the children, he warmly told me that we couldn’t interrupt classes and would have to wait until recess.
This is precisely what is wonderful about Mr. Sameth, the founding director of Save poor Children in Asia (S.C.A.O.). He is a visionary who puts the needs of the children first and is fully committed to providing a safe haven and education for disadvantaged young people in Cambodia. Quite simply, he’s unstoppable in his quest to better the lives of the children in surrounding communities that live in dire poverty.
I soon learned that Sath survived the terror of the Khmer Rouge. His parents were killed, leaving him and his brothers and sisters to live in abject poverty. He grew up in the Svay Kon Keo Commune (Takeo Province, Cambodia), and at age 12 moved to Phnom Penh where he lived in a Buddhist monastery for nine years. Sath later made his way to a university where he studied forestry and journalism. Working for the government, he visited 24 provinces to advocate for sustainable forestry.
Cambodia is riddled with poverty and the suffering from land mines, as well as a lack of education. Anyone who has traveled there has also surely noticed the children filling the streets of major cities, many of whom are vulnerable to slave trafficking, drugs, begging and worse.
Public schools, although ostensibly free, are outside the means of many of Cambodia’s poor. Due to disability or disease, many parents need their children to earn an income or to supervise their siblings while they try to eek out a living. Education remains beyond their reach.
With these harsh realities uppermost in mind, Sath was motivated to put his real talents to work and to pursue his dream: creating a center to care for street children.
Today, S.C.A.O. gives them an opportunity for a better life and future. Here, they are provided with an education, support and love, while also being taught valuable skills that will help them be independent and self-sustaining. Indeed, under Sath’s expert tutelage, many young students have gone on to lead responsible and successful adult lives.
When I met Sath, S.C.A.O. had only one school with 17 children. A few short years later, with the support of many worldwide organizations, Save poor Children in Asia now is working on the construction of a third school. (Over the years, Sath has created many other cause-related programs, including The Advocacy Walk, designed to help visitors get first-hand knowledge of how Cambodians live by visiting local communities on foot. As I found out for myself, Khmer people are extremely friendly, appreciate guests and often fluent in English.)
The center now boasts a full computer lab, which offers a great opportunity to bring Flipboard into the classroom. This was a personal dream of mine. Once presented to Sath and his volunteers, they were very enthusiastic. I enlisted advocates and educators Marcelle McGhee and Kristina Sorrelli to help me curate Flipboard learning guides for the teachers and volunteers. The guides were created to S.C.A.O’s specifications and needs.
Sath Sameth’s vision has never been easily realized. As he knows all too well, fundraising is a lifelong pursuit. With his example to inspire me, I have personally become active in helping Save poor Children in Asia with this Flipboard Magazine. Showcasing activity at the center is useful for fundraising and bringing awareness to the program.
I hope you will learn more about Mr. Sameth and his inspiring work by visiting www.savepoorchildreninasia.org. I’m confident you’ll be as touched by the unforgettable children of S.C.A.O. as I was—and will always be.
Janette Leon-Speyer is a founding partner in Hot Ice Media, a digital social marketing, advertising and PR agency, with a focus on marketing campaigns for natural products brands. A Flipboard enthusiast, Janette creates magazines with the hopes of using the app for good and positive change in the world. She also enjoys yoga, dancing and travel.