Why I support Cambodia … and why you should too!

I get these questions a lot …

“Why Cambodia?”

“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.

Another answer, perhaps even more obvious than the first one, is that I wanted to “give back” and to share the wealth that has been given to me over the years.  I came from a very middle class family but looking back I considered myself very fortunate; I was educated at a private boarding school in Scotland while my parents were setting up schools in Africa.  After we returned to Canada, I spent my high school days either at school or at home doing homework for the next day.  I never had to take on a part-time job and in the summer, I spent the lazy days at our cottage on a lake.  I was awarded a scholarship to the University of Western Ontario where I obtained my Bachelor of Science and then I was off to the Ontario Veterinary College, graduating with very little debt thanks to my parents and the Ontario government.

But life wasn’t perfect and I would not call it a privileged upbringing.  Scottish boarding schools are pretty much hell on earth for a very sensitive homesick boy all of nine years old whose parents were thousands of miles away.  In those days, the headmaster was allowed to beat the children if they did something bad and apparently I did because I was beaten twice with the infamous jokari bat on my bare backside.  I was ridiculed in the showers because my bottom (I’ll use the British expression) was flaming red.  I would also like to mention how we had to wear shorts in the middle of winter and I was turned off playing the chanter (a musical instrument) because the teacher hovered with a ruler, threatening to smack my fingers if I made a wrong note.  When I returned to Canada, my parents got involved in a difficult business deal and money was very tight.  I remember we ate out at the local restaurant once a week (our special treat!) for $1.99 fish and chips but we weren’t allowed dessert and we were only allowed to order water as a beverage.

“That’s how the restaurant makes their money.  Cake and coke,” my dad warned us.

After I was awarded my DVM degree I moved to Las Vegas, became a small animal veterinarian and money wasn’t a problem.   Please don’t get the impression that veterinarians are overpaid because they definitely are not.  They earn far less than dentists and physicians and (I may be biased here) but I think they work much harder.  The point is that I was comfortable and I bought a house and a car and I considered myself pretty happy and so, blessed with the compassion gene, it was no wonder that I was looking for ways to “give back”.

If there were a third answer, I would refer you to an excellent TED talk by Hugh Evans who talks about Global Citizens.  These are people who don’t see themselves confined by borders but primarily self-identify as members of the human race and work to help each other.  He brings up an excellent point that we just can’t ignore problems in other countries because poverty, war, inequality and climate change will affect us all if we don’t address these major issues.  We’ve seen it already in Syria (just as one example) and we will continue to see growing problems around the world if we don’t energize those people who are willing to see the world as one.  Don’t even get me started about Sir Donald trying to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans.  That’s exactly the opposite of what Global Citizens are trying to achieve.

Yes, I want to be a Global Citizen so I see nothing wrong with being a Canadian, living in the United States and wanting to help Cambodia.  It all makes perfect sense.

So now I get to ask the question …

What country are you going to help?

And if the answer is Cambodia, that’s great!  Sponsorships for students start at $50/month and we prefer that you use the PayPal Giving Fund to avoid transaction fees.

Thank you!


Cambodia, donations, education, funding, global citizen, hugh evans, nonprofit, OVC, Savong, scholarships, Siem Reap, students, TED, travel, veterinarian, veterinary, volunteer, welfare, women, youth


Phil Caldwell started the Savong Foundation in 2011 to serve underprivileged youth in northern Cambodia. As a veterinarian, he is equally passionate about helping animals and improving the welfare of neglected and suffering dogs and cats.

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