I get these questions a lot …
“Whatever got you interested in that country?”
“How can you help a country with so many problems?”
Or sometimes I just get an odd look and I’m guessing the person is trying to figure out if they could even point out Cambodia on a map.
My simple answer is that I took a sabbatical from my veterinary job eight years ago and I spent about a week in Phnom Penh and then Siem Reap. I wanted to do something other than photograph the beautiful temples of Angkor so I looked up volunteering positions on the internet. I came across a young man who had recently started a free English language school. His name was Savong. He was bright, ambitious and very friendly. We immediately formed a friendship and I was so moved by what he had accomplished for his underprivileged students, I wanted to be a part of it. I promised that I would return and six months later, I did. Three years later, I started the Savong Foundation which supports students who can’t pay for high quality education. So, one answer is that I became involved in Cambodia due to pure chance. Or maybe it was fate. That’s an interesting discussion for another time.
How much do you think I made as the CEO of the Savong Foundation last year?
You would be correct if you came up with the exact number of -$5168.36. Yes, that’s right, it’s a minus because I earned $0 but with personal donations, advertising, travel expenses and other miscellaneous costs, I’m in the hole for over $5000 for 2015. I certainly don’t regret spending the money; I like to direct as much money towards our student programs as possible and I realize there are personal costs associated with running a nonprofit.
At the Savong Foundation, very little money is spent on administrative expenses. In fact, last year, over 98% of our income was put towards program expenses. We were able to achieve this number because none of our board members get a salary and we only had two paid staff members, our scholarship manager and our computer teacher. We don’t have an office and we don’t have team building getaways in expensive hotels.
It’s an alarming figure: One qualified doctor for every 5000 people in Cambodia, which is one of the lowest ratios in the world. It’s no wonder that poor people must turn to unqualified and unlicensed “healers” to get any hope of care.
And with an entire village getting infected with HIV, it’s a tragic situation.
Of course, the situation is more complex than this. Even if there were more physicians, could the poor people afford to get proper treatment? What role should the government have in making sure that its people get treated? Should there be an accelerated program through university to produce more healthcare workers?
At the Savong Foundation, we want our students to go to university and have professional careers. We may have three young women who would like to go to medical school this fall but the fees are quite high and there is no way that the average Cambodian student could afford them.
$1500 for tuition for year 1 and then it increases to $3000 over the course of an eight year program. These fees don’t include living expenses which range from $100 to $200/month. Of course, these fees may sound cheap to the average foreigner going through med school but for Cambodia, where a family may bring in only $100 or $200/month, the fees might as well be a million dollars a year.
We’ve looked into microloans and so far, this is not even a viable solution. There is a limit of $5000 and the loan needs to be paid back before the start of the next school year. Our option at this point is to seek out private donations to cover the fees and with three students, these fees will be substantial …
But this is what Cambodia needs! Young, ambitious, highly intelligent physicians who understand what it’s like to be poor!
If you would like to sponsor one of our young women, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t wait till graduation day.[/fusion_text][youtube id=”https://youtu.be/Pt0PCsa5eQM” width=”600″ height=”350″ autoplay=”no” api_params=”” class=””][/youtube]