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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Bellport girls look to aid Cambodian kids

By Kay Blough
A trip to Cambodia last winter was a lesson about the haves and have-nots for two Bellport sisters and sparked a desire in them to do something to help the gentle, friendly people they met.

Watching children ride in floating metal rice tubs on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Southeast Asia, flipping into the water or sitting in boats with snakes around their necks so tourists would donate money, drove home to Rae, 12, and Emmy Specht, 9, how much harder life is in some parts of the world.

"The kids would run around with no shoes, and they lived in shacks, and the little kids would run around and beg," Rae said. "It was sad that they were living like this, but they were happy and smiling.
"We kept wanting to hand out dollar bills, but we were running out," she added, "so we thought about what else we could do."
When they returned home they shared with friends pictures of what they had seen. They did some research and decided to raise money to buy water filters to benefit 200 Cambodian families, because, as their site explains, 75 percent of deaths in Cambodia are caused as a result of drinking unfiltered water. And so Four Girls For Families was born. This year, the girls registered their charity and now have a website, fourgirlsforfamilies.org, with videos made during their trip, an e-sales section and a PayPal donation button.

Rae and Emmy recruited best friends Madeleine Joinnides, 12, of Brookhaven, and Clara Walker, 11, of Bellport, to help, and other friends have pitched in to make, sell and buy their products, which are usually created at the Specht's residence and include T-shirts, cards and jewelry that sell for $8 to $15. They recently worked with a Girl Scout troop and a church youth group that helped them make bracelets and T-shirts they will sell to raise money for the filters.

Community helps out

Their initial goal was to raise $2,000. So far, they have raised about $7,000 and plan another fundraiser weekend soon at a storefront in Bellport donated by the Grucci family, famed for their fireworks productions.

The girls sold their wares at the annual Bellport Day summer festival and Artists on the Lane, the annual July Fourth Art Show produced by the South Bay Art Association, both Bellport events. Cedar Graphics in Ronkonkoma donated printing services for the cards the girls designed.
"This is a very cohesive town," said Joanne Specht, mother of Emmy and Rae. "Everyone knows everyone here."

A donation of about $8 pays for a clay water filter glazed with silver that sits inside a large plastic drum fitted with a spigot. The slightly porous clay blocks anything bigger than a water molecule from going through, trapping contaminants, while the silver glaze helps kill E. coli bacteria, said Brian Specht, the girls' father.

The Specht girls and younger brother Sam, 5, travel each winter with their dad when he attends a toy fair in Hong Kong. Afterward, they take a family vacation and last year went to Cambodia. Time hasn't diminished their desire to help, so Brian Specht has been researching companies in Cambodia that will sell filters to the girls' charity and supply a truck and driver so they can deliver the filters this winter.

The project is a double benefit since the filters are made in Cambodia and the project creates jobs for villagers, Joanne Specht said.

Service project
To keep up with science homework while she was on vacation last year, Rae did research on some of the geological aspects of Cambodia and the silk farms. The water filter project segued into the community service aspect of her National Junior Honor Society application at the private Laurel Hill School in East Setauket, where she was in 6th grade last year.

William Schmidt, her sixth-grade science teacher at Laurel Hill, said he urges students to think "not just in terms of how much money we can raise, but that we are helping no matter what we do."
That has stuck with Rae and the other girls she has partnered with, he said.

"They were amazed by how much they initially raised, but the amazement increased when they realized how many people they can help with the purchase of the water filters," Schmidt added.
Interest spread at school, and they sold T-shirts there, too.

The girls are keen artists and have a sense of humor that's reflected in their designs. One "Wizard of Oz" inspired T-shirt with the writing "Girls Night Out" features Dorothy and Glinda the Good Witch shopping for red sparkly shoes. They'll also take custom orders if customers see a design they like but not in their size.

They plan to help deliver some of the water filters when the family returns to Cambodia in January, hopefully along with Clara and Madeleine. Joanne Specht hopes the girls get a chance to teach a class at the orphanage they visited last year near Siem Reap, the former capital of Cambodia that is near the temples of Angkor.

In the meantime, fundraising efforts continue. Rae is thinking big, and long-term.

"If we raise a lot of money," she said, "I'd like to help build a house for the orphans."

Where to buy on LI


Four Girls For Families will sell their jewelry, cards and T-shirts this weekend at a storefront in Bellport.
Where: 14 Bellport Lane
When: Saturday, Oct. 15 from noon to 6 p.m.
How to help: fourgirlsforfamilies.org
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