Resting at their hotel on New Year’s Day, Stevie Peacock, 14, Allison Sant, 15, Talia Leman, 13, Robbye Raisher, 13, and Maddie Lawry, 14, said they’d barely slept since touching down in Phnom Penh five days earlier.
In Cambodia to open a school in Kompong Thom province that their organization, RandomKids, funded and helped build, they said their short stint in Cambodia had changed them forever and that they would return to the US as different people.
Over the course of their six days they had opened the school in Stung Sen district, visited the Choeung Ek killing fields and S-21, and learned a few words in Khmer. But what they said they will remember most is the enthusiasm of Cambodian children over things they themselves take for granted, such as a school or clean drinking water.
“That excitement over a school that kids in America don’t have; these kids were beaming and clapping as we walked down to the school and they were so excited,” said Sant, RandomKids’ delegate for the US state of Ohio.
“This [trip] is worth so much more than a week in school. This trip is worth so much education for us,” added Leman, who co-founded RandomKids when she was 10 years old.
RandomKids started when Leman first organized young people across the US to collect $10 million to assist the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
RandomKids has since moved on to network children all over the world and today has delegates in all 50 US states and 19 different countries.
Fully equipped with five learning rooms, computers and Internet access, the new school in Sneng Krabai village represents one of RandomKids’ biggest projects outside the US, Leman said.
The organization decided to build a school in Cambodia after their Japanese delegate, Abby Schneider, came up with the idea and contacted Bernard Krisher, chairman of American Assistance to Cambodia and publisher of The Cambodia Daily.
After working out the details, RandomKids organized youth in the US to collect money for the school, which has the capacity to teach 500 students in grades 7 to 9, Leman said.
“We all started selling Band-Aids and stuff to fund the school and we raised $14,000,” said Stevie Peacock, the delegate for the US state of Florida. The Asian Development Bank then matched the money they raised, she added.
The motto of RandomKids, as stated on their Web site, is “to take the goodness of children and turn it into goodness for the world.”
And you don’t have to suffer to make a difference, Leman said.
“You just have to take whatever you already do to help others and make it bigger.”