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.