MILTON — Seven years after the Milton community rallied to raise the funds needed to build a middle school in a remote part of Cambodia, the community is coming together once again to support the school. Mike Conn, a Milton Area High School social studies teacher, said students at the high school formed Team Cambodia after he was inspired during a visit to the country in 2007. Conn and his daughter, Paige, visited Cambodia as part of a conference for teachers they attended in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
“It was Cambodia that captured the hearts of every teacher in the group,” Conn recalled. “We all wondered what we could do to help some of those (Cambodian) kids.”
Upon returning to Milton, Conn started showing images of Cambodian children living in poverty to his advance placement U.S. history students.
“They wanted to do something to help those kids,” Conn said.
After researching options, Conn was put in touch with an organization now known as World Assistance for Cambodia, which works with groups around the world to build schools in areas of Cambodia where there are none.
“I discovered we could raise funds… and we could build a school in a poor area of Cambodia,” Conn recalled.
Team Cambodia immediately embraced the idea and started a fundraising push to raise the money needed to build the school.
“We needed to raise $35,000,” Conn said, adding that the students raised the funds in just four months.
“When I talk about it, I still get teary eyed,” Conn continued. “These kids, who live half a world away, had their lives enriched by kids in Milton, Pa.”
Conn, along with a contingent of eight students and four other chaperones, visited the Milton School in Cambodia for its opening in December 2008. The school serves 320 students in grades six through nine and is the only school of its kind within a 25-mile radius. Most of the natives of the area do not have vehicles. The Milton School in Cambodia has virtually a 100 percent attendance rate, Conn said. Over the years, he said Team Cambodia has raised around $50,000 to support the school.
“We’ve added a classroom, a state of the art computer lab,” Conn said.
Last week, Conn received an email from World Assistance for Cambodia stating that the funds in Milton’s account with the organization had all been used, and the Milton School in Cambodia was going to have to discontinue its English, computer and Internet programming at the end of August.
“I asked them to please continue the English and computer teacher, and access to the Internet,” Conn said. “I told them in six to eight weeks, we would send them $4,500.”
The organization agreed. While Milton’s obligation to the school in Cambodia ended with construction, Conn said it’s been important for the students, and the community, to continue supporting the school.
“I felt if we were going to build a school, we had to provide them with resources,” Conn said. “When you make a commitment, it’s a long-term commitment.”
He said the English, computer and Internet programs were not covered with the initial contribution to fund the school. Instead, they were extras Milton opted to support beyond the basic education the students receive. Conn said it was due to the communication lapses that occur when working with under-developing nations that Milton was not made aware the school was in need of additional resources to continue the programs. In order to support the school, Conn said Team Cambodia is launching several initiatives to raise the $4,500 needed to keep the English, computer and Internet programs active for another year The funds will also be used to repair the motor on the school’s well, which is the only source of fresh water in the village where the school is located. Students involved with Team Cambodia will be at Walmart in Lewisburg Saturday and Sunday, and again on Sept. 21, with information about the school in Cambodia
“We will make an appeal to the public to please help us continue to serve these (Cambodian) children,” Conn said. “Every penny we get will go to the school, to help those kids.”
In about three weeks, Team Cambodia T-shirts will be available to purchase for $15 through the Milton high school.
Conn said he’s excited to see the students now involved with Team Cambodia, who were in elementary school when the effort was first launched, embrace the project with enthusiasm.
“It solidifies my belief that students have a lot of goodness in them,” he said. “They do care.”
Conn is also thankful for everyone from the community who has supported the project over the years.
“I wish I could take this whole community to Cambodia, to our school, to see those beautiful children and how hard they work (at school,” Conn said. “It’s important that we don’t drop the ball now. We need to add resources. We don’t need to lose the ones we have.”
Conn was able to make a return visit to the school last year.
“There’s hardly a night that goes by when I’m trying to fall asleep that I don’t see the faces of Cambodian children,” he continued. “We have a chance to make this a legacy in our community so this school will go on for many, many years to come.”
Checks to support the school can be made out to Team Cambodia and mailed to The Milton Area High School, c/o Mike Conn, 700 Mahoning St., Milton PA 17847.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014 | by Kevin Mertz