How a walk through a Florida neighborhood ended up in Cambodia

In 2000, Susan Mastin and Richard Allen were walking around their neighborhood in Florida. And it was there when they first met Bruce Lasky. The meeting led to friendship, and in 2002 Bruce went on a round-the-world travel adventure. One of the countries he visited was Cambodia. When Bruce arrived in Phnom Penh he met a woman who volunteered to drive him to the rural village where she grew up. That small village was Osdao, in Pursat. Bruce met many of the families from this village and saw first-hand the impoverished quality of life - consequences of the Khmer Rouge regime.

He was so taken by the conditions he found there that he emailed his family and friends asking if they would help him establish a small school. His mother, Sylvia Lasky, was the first to respond, saying she would sponsor a child if he promised her that 100% of the money would go to the school. That promise became one of the founding principles of what would become Sustainable Cambodia, and Bruce became the first volunteer director.

David Pred, a friend of Bruce’s, stepped up and became the first onsite volunteer with Sustainable Cambodia. Without David’s work as a volunteer, and Bruce’s work as volunteer director, the program would never have started. In 2002, Richard and Susan, who had helped support the program from the beginning, volunteered to convert the program to a formal NGO and nonprofit entity, joining David and Bruce as volunteer directors and co-founders. Sustainable Cambodia started to grow with the help of many people around the world that started sponsoring children, and the incredible help of The Rotary Foundation. Sustainable Cambodia would not be the same organization today without Rotary.

In 2003 Sustainable Cambodia was still a small school, operated in the home of a local Pursat family. Bruce's brother, Cyril Lasky, was working as onsite volunteer and the directors were working from United States, to develop and grow the organization. Their aim was to start creating village development programs (water wells, agriculture projects, microloans and microenterprise) to empower rural Cambodian villages and help them be self-sufficient. The founders felt it was important to hire an experienced Cambodian as a National Coordinator. They wanted to relocate the school to a new place that can build more classrooms for the students, and have more rooms for staffs to work on more projects to help the village families.

Richard and Susan quickly booked flights to Cambodia to help. But long before they arrived, while thinking for solutions, a knock came on Cyril’s door. Upon opening it, he found several representatives of the village families, who had come with a quiet message: they had found what they thought might be a good second location for the school. They took Cyril there, and indeed it seemed a good fit. So preparations began for the school’s relocation. And what we had hoped to accomplish through village development programs – empowerment of the village families – was already happening.

The families volunteered to help relocate the school materials, and to fix and clean the new location. Susan and Richard arrived to sign the lease on the new school. All the school’s original teachers came to the new location and helped keep the school operating, planning classes and helping with everything. Bruce and David spent countless hours helping with the transition. And during these few weeks in the new location, the organization’s first National Coordinator was hired.

Cyril continued for months as volunteer during this period. But without his volunteerism, and the families stepping up to volunteer to help, and all the others who volunteered during this period, the program would have a lot of challenges. Instead it grew rapidly in both village development and education.

From that one small school in one rural village, the program expanded and grew. Sylvia Lasky’s request became a founding principle of Sustainable Cambodia. The other founding principles of the organization are empowerment and sustainability.

Today Sustainable Cambodia has grown to have more than 20,000 families who are part of the program, with 36 rural village schools, including preschools and Grades 1-12. Nearly 200 of these children have now been able to earn Sustainable Cambodia scholarships upon graduation to attend Cambodian universities. The schools have active Youth Clubs who do community service. And the organization is very proactive about empowering women through the program, with at least 50% of the students in the schools being female. In total, village families have installed more than 400 wells, and built more than 2,500 Biosand water filters. And there is an active Animal Pass-On program that empowers the village families as donors.

All this has been built on the Sustainable Cambodia model of Participatory Empowerment, where the village families organize and help with the goals and plans, as well as doing the physical work involved.

And all of this started with a simple walk around the neighborhood. A walk that ended up in Cambodia, changing the lives of children and families who perhaps never dreamed any of this was possible.


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