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Sunday, April 01, 2007

FGCU students hope to change the world by funding a school in Cambodia

By Elizabeth Wright
Sunday, April 1, 2007

If Ana Herrera ever makes it to Cambodia, the first place she would visit would likely be a small, concrete school building that doesn’t exist.

Not yet.

The school would be in a rural village, and it would be the place several hundred children could come for classes each day. The building would be stocked with school supplies; maybe it would even have a garden next to it.

When this school is built, Herrera, 21, a Naples resident and a senior at Florida Gulf Coast University, will be proud to know she was one of the people who helped bring it about. So will the about 20 other seniors at the university who are working this spring to raise $13,000 to build the school.

Not one of the students has ever set foot in Cambodia, and few knew much about the country’s history before the semester began.

This project is simply their response to a class assignment their professor gave them back in January: change the world.

At first, that assignment seemed too big and too vague.

The students each had different interests outside the required-for-graduation service learning class, and they had very different ideas about what in the world needed to be changed, and how.
But they could agree children, and education, were important.

So when Herrera happened on a clip from a newscast about another group in the United States that built a school in Cambodia, she thought this might be something college students in Florida could take on in three months.

She also was inspired to do something to help provide schools after learning more about a country that is still recovering from devastation during the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and subsequent invasion and civil war. One result of that political turmoil is that school facilities in rural areas of Cambodia are scarce.

Miranda Westphal, 31, one of the students in the FGCU class, said it might seem like an idealistic project, but it’s worth trying.

“I can’t even imagine not having a place to go to school,” she said.

The students are working with a charity called American Assistance for Cambodia. Over a little more than a decade, the charity has helped build 350 schools in rural parts of Cambodia and has an arrangement with the Asian Development Bank in which the bank matches donations.

So if these students raise $13,000 this spring, that means $26,000 will go toward building a
village school. Construction can start once the students raise about $5,000.

Still, it is a large amount of money for a group of busy college seniors to come up with in a few short months before they go their separate ways.

That caused some to worry at first about whether they’d be able to pull it off.

“Everyone was like, ‘I don’t know. Isn’t that too much?’ “Herrera said.

But excitement for the project grew, and the students agreed to spend much of their spring break planning fundraisers — from bake sales to garage sales — and asking local businesses for support. Now, it’s more than just a class assignment to many.

And as for meeting their goal of $13,000, they have raised about $2,000 so far. But the students still have time on their side — there’s another month left before the semester ends.
“I’m hopeful,” Herrera said.

For more information on the Rural School Project or the need for schools in Cambodia, see http://cambodiaschools.com, or contact the students directly at
changetheworldproject@hotmail.com. The students also plan an information session at 7 p.m. April 5, in Reed Hall on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. Read more!