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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Retired CF teacher raises money to build Cambodian school

Donna Martin interacted with students while visiting a school in Cambodia that she raised money to build. Martin, a retired Chippewa Falls High School teacher, raised the $13,000 needed to build the school by substitute teaching and seeking donations.

By Jon Swedien Leader-Telegram staff

Retirement was frustrating Donna Martin.

"I didn't feel like I was doing anything important," said the former Chippewa Falls High School teacher, who retired in 2003.

But about a year ago, Martin found a new purpose while reading a magazine article about a charity program that works to open new schools in poverty-stricken rural Cambodia. If she could raise $13,000, it would finance a new school.

"I thought, ‘Well there's no reason I can't do that,' " she said.

And so Martin went to work. She set aside money she earned substitute teaching, saving up about half the money needed. To raise the other half, she sought donations from friends and colleagues and church groups in Chippewa Falls.

Martin thought it would take three years to meet her goal, but within a year she had raised $13,000. The money was used to build a new middle school in the Cambodian village of Khan Sar, which serves 84 students who previously had to walk or bike several miles to attend school.

When Martin was asked to name the school, she christened it Chippewa School after the community that helped her meet her goal.

"You get a lot for your money in Cambodia," Martin said with a laugh on Friday, a day after she returned from a trip to Southeast Asia.

On March 1, Martin visited Chippewa School, along with friends Virginia Metzdorf and Sue and Gene Decker.

Students lined up to welcome Martin, and local and regional dignitaries came to the school to thank her and speak about the importance of education, said Sue Decker, a former colleague of Martin's at Chi-Hi.

"It was a pretty moving experience," she said. "I was very proud of my friend."

Decker said rural Cambodia lacks the basic infrastructure - electricity, running water and paved roads - that is taken for granted in the U.S. One of the major features of Chippewa School, in addition to its four classrooms, is its well that provides the school with running water.

She said it was evident many of the students came from humble means.

"The kids don't really have much. Most were barefoot," Decker said.

Martin made a similar observation when she and her friends handed out packets of school supplies.

"One boy said he'd never seen a globe before," Martin said. "You wonder what their view of the world is when they've never seen a globe."

And while Chippewa School may be built, Martin said she's not done raising money.

"When I saw the school, I thought, ‘I don't think this project is finished,' " Martin said. "Their needs are so incredible.'"

Martin next hopes to raise money to bring an English teacher to the school or to buy computers. Decker said Martin's continued philanthropy is good for her friend's morale.

"She's a very goal-orientated person," Decker said. "She wants to give of herself."

Meanwhile, Martin said she hopes her efforts motivate others to take up altruistic causes.

Swedien can be reached at 715-833-9214 or .

School Program

The program that Donna Martin participated in is the American Assistance for Cambodians' rural schools project. The program has built more than 300 schools, according to the association's website. The organization was founded by former Newsweek Cambodian Bureau Chief Bernie Krisher.

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