Hope is Born:
Jamie & Srelin's Story
“Please, can I have a dollar?"
It was a chance meeting, an encounter played out hundreds of times a day across Siem Reap, but on that day in 2003 something changed for the children of Siem Reap and for children across Cambodia.
Jamie Amelio was in Siem Reap on a vacation from Singapore, where she and her family were living at the time, enjoying the majesty of the Angkor Wat temples. She wasn’t looking for a cause or a project.
For Srelin, it was just another day. It was near lunchtime and the 8-year-old was peddling books to tourists. She worked alone but she was hardly the only child selling everything from scarves to postcards around the temples.
Jamie recalls having been approached by many such children that day but there was something different about Srelin.
“I was so struck by her. When she approached me asking for a dollar, I immediately asked her name and what she needed it for,” recalled Jamie.
When Srelin answered she needed the money for school, Jamie was skeptical. After all, who can resist a young child asking for money for school? Jamie simply couldn't imagine children having to pay for school in a country so poor.
The pair soon struck a bargain, with Jamie agreeing to give Srelin the dollar in exchange for a tour of her school. It was arranged for Jamie to visit the school in the village of Kravaan after lunch.
Entering the village, Jamie saw Srelin burst from the school, a small, low-roofed, shack-like structure, to excitedly welcome her. Upon entering, Jamie was greeted by 75 children of all ages crowded into a single room with a dirt floor. The children sat quietly on narrow benches or on the floor, often in each other’s laps as there simply wasn’t space for everyone.
Struck by the good behavior of the students, Jamie quickly realized what was missing – there was no teacher and no school textbooks or supplies.
Over the next several hours, Jamie learned a lot about the state of the Cambodian education system. School supplies were nonexistent, teachers lacked proper training and were paid just $25 a month, below living wage even for a poor country like Cambodia.
Teachers like Srelin’s often didn’t show up to school yet the kids came and sat respectfully in hopes the teacher would arrive. Students were expected to supplement the teacher’s income so they sold books or other trinkets to tourists to earn the money.
Srelin had been telling the truth. She needed that dollar for school and Jamie’s trip to Cambodia had taken a turn from fun getaway to the beginning of a lifelong mission.
“Perhaps I was naïve, but I couldn’t get my head around the idea that I lived two hours away in a country where my children had everything they could possibly need, while children in Cambodia were trying to learn in an environment like I had just seen. This was simply not okay with me. People could do better. People like me could do better.”
Today, nearly 7,000 students annually attend a school supported by Caring for Cambodia for free. Not only do they have the clean, safe classrooms, textbooks, and school supplies they need but they also receive two meals a day, clean water and sanitation facilities. There are science labs and computer classrooms complete with laptops.
And the teachers? They are paid well; provided with an internationally developed curriculum and trained by experts from the US and Singapore.
Most importantly, CFC schools are recognized by the country’s Minister of Education as the model for K-12 education across Cambodia. Our curriculum is shared with schools nationwide and teachers from across the country come to Siem Reap for training.
For more about the history of CFC, please consider purchasing a copy of Graced with Orange.