Letter from the CEO

When people hear that I operate a Cambodian nonprofit, their first question is usually “Why Cambodia?”. There are many ways to answer this, but I usually say that generosity shouldn’t have borders–we’re all on the same planet after all–and we can make big differences with relatively little money.  I won’t deny that it’s also personal; I fell in love with the country and its people back in 2008 and I made a long-term commitment to help, even it were in a small  way.  Thankfully I’ve been able to keep my commitment, motivated by our hard-working students, their hopeful families and our generous donors.

phil2017 was a fairly smooth year for the Savong Foundation and anyone who has done work in Cambodia knows that hurdles and obstacles can be a regular occurrence. As always, our focus has been on education and we’re very proud of what our students have accomplished. One student graduated from Grade 9. Four of our students passed their government exams and graduated from Grade 12 and we also had a student graduate from University who now works at the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap. We believe in paying for the best education we can find and the success of our students is proof that we get what we pay for.

In 2017, we also established a strong presence in Phnom Penh.   We enrolled five students at various universities; one student is studying Civil Engineering (Institute of Technology), two are studying Marketing (University of Cambodia), another one is studying Global Affairs (American University of Phnom Penh) and this year, we accepted a student into our scholarship program who will be at a pharmacy school (University of Health Sciences). I find it incredibly exciting that these students are able to pursue their professional dreams beyond the menial jobs that they would have had if the Savong Foundation had not have helped them. To help them transition into fully independent adults, we encourage our university students to find part-time jobs to pay for their living expenses as long as their curriculum will allow it.

In line with our education focus, we have partnered with Chinary and Susan Ung who are highly respected music composers from southern California. They run workshops in southeast Asia for budding composers, including those from Cambodia. We accepted Sean Heim, another composer, as our newest board member who will help us manage this new project. We feel that this is a great fit for the Savong Foundation since music is such an inherent part of the culture in Cambodia and not all students will want to pursue academic degrees. We are very thankful to Jenny Lau, our newest treasurer, who introduced us to the Ungs. Jenny was born in Cambodia but emigrated to the United States as a young girl after the Khmer Rouge years. Her incredible family story is documented in her book “Beautiful Hero” and is a must-read for anyone interested in Cambodia and/or the power of the human spirit.

Despite it being a “smooth year”, we’ve also faced our share of challenges. One of our university students blacked out and fell down a long flight of stairs. He developed a blood clot in his brain and had to have surgery. Another student suddenly disappeared but was later found to be fine but has since left our scholarship program. Rising costs for tuitions as well as medical bills have put a strain on our finances and we had to say goodbye to our Student Water Pump Project since it was difficult to get funding. There are always going to be hurdles to overcome but our team is in a good place and I think we have the skills and experience necessary to continue our progress that we made in 2017.

As with any small nonprofit, we rely on generous donations to do our work. I’ve always hated to ask people for money but I don’t hesitate to do it for the Savong Foundation because I know we are making a difference and we are passionate about helping our students. As we are entering our seventh year, I’m humbled and inspired by the donors that have made this journey with us. Thank you for allowing us to do our work and let’s make 2018 an even better year.


Phil Caldwell, CEO

The Savong Foundation

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