Ancient Ruins and Water Wells
The story begins in April of 2005, when Danny and Pam Spitler visited Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat. During their 4-day visit to the area, their tour guide was a young Cambodian gentleman by the name of Chea Sarin.
Sarin was an excellent guide and, over the course of their visit, the Spitlers were impressed with his knowledge and his communication skill, but they also got a clear impression that he cared deeply for the plight of the poor villagers in his country and especially for the children. He informed the Spitlers that the lack of clean drinking water was the cause of many health problems among the village children.
One of the stops, during the Spitler’s tour, was at an elementary school where Sarin showed them a small, domestic water well with an old-style hand pump. There was a sign near the well indicating that the funds to drill the well had been donated by an individual. Sarin explained that the funds had come from one of his clients, and that he had coordinated the actual drilling of the well. When asked, he told the Spitlers that the cost of the well and pump was $300.
At the end of their tour, the Spitlers decided to donate enough money to provide one of these wells to a poor village. They gave the $300 to Sarin and hoped that he would use the money for the intended purpose. A few weeks after returning to their home in Phoenix, Arizona, the Spitlers received an email from Sarin thanking them again for their generosity, and he included a photo (left).
He had also included photos of the actual drilling of the well and the pouring of the concrete pad, so it certainly appeared that the funds had been used as promised.
Danny and Pam shared this story with their family, and several members asked if they could do the same thing. Danny Spitler contacted Sarin and was assured that he could select additional locations where the wells were desperately needed. So, the Spitler family sent $1,000 to Sarin, requesting that he drill wells for two villages and another school. Once again, he followed through immediately, and within a couple of weeks, he provided photographs of the work in progress as well as the finished wells at 3 new locations.
Danny told Sarin that he could keep any funds that were left over to cover his time and expense, but Sarin said that he would rather use the money to purchase educational supplies for some school children. He sent photos of himself delivering the supplies to the students (left).
Sharing a Dream
A few weeks later, the Spitlers received an email from Sarin asking them if they would consider helping him start a school at a very poor village located about nine kilometers outside of Siem Reap. Over the course of several weeks, Sarin and Spitler exchanged information about this project. Spitlers became continuously more impressed with Sarin’s organizational skills and his passion for this project. By Western standards, the funds that Sarin was requesting to build a classroom, purchase supplies, and hire two teachers were an extremely small amount given the potential good that could be accomplished. So, after working out the budgets and the timetables, the Spitlers agreed to provide the funding for the project.
The initial concept was to build 1 building, using lumber and thatch construction, with a dirt floor. The building would be divided into 2 classrooms in anticipation of about 60 students. With a construction budget of less than $1,000, Sarin was able to complete the building in just a few weeks and had money left over to build some rudimentary wooden tables, which the students could use for desks.
To the surprise of Sarin and the Spitlers, almost 100 children signed up to attend the school. Classes began in July 2005, even though the normal school year is similar to the U.S. and runs between September and May. Additional students continued to arrive, and soon the school was serving 120 students by offering half the students classes in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.
Sarin was able to purchase very adequate supplies for the students and the classroom at an average cost of about $1 per student per month, and 2 well-qualified teachers were hired for salaries of $70 per month each.
Given the response from the village and the cost to benefit ratio, the Spitlers decided to provide additional funds so that Sarin could build 2 more buildings, and hire 4 additional teachers. Sarin accomplished all of this within 6 weeks and, when the school opened for the regular school year in September 2005, it was able to accommodate 190 students in kindergarten through second grade.
Irvin Spitler Library
Throughout the school year, running from September 2005 through July 2006, Sarin continued to make improvements to the school by adding toilet facilities, purchasing a generator, and adding a cement floor to the kindergarten building. All expenditures were discussed and approved by Spitlers. Danny Spitler’s father, Irvin Spitler, donated $4,000 to build a brick and mortar building to be used as a library, as a secure building for supplies, and as a meeting place for teachers and local village officials. Sarin arranged for construction of this building to begin in January, and it was completed within 3 months.
Danny and Pam Spitler to returned to Cambodia in February 2006, and were able to see, personally, all that Sarin had been able to accomplish during the Spitler School’s first year of operation. They visited the classrooms, which were in session, observed the lessons, and saw first-hand the supplies that were being furnished to the students and the teachers. They met and spent time with all of the teachers as well as the leaders of the village. They also met with representatives from the local offices of the Ministry of Education for the Cambodian government. These officials assured the Spitlers that Sarin had provided proper information to them regarding the school, and they confirmed that the school’s curriculum was in compliance with all government standards.
In September of 2006, the school began its second year with the addition of a third grade class. The student population increased to a total of 260 children. In December of 2006, a group of students from Singapore University donated the funds and the labor to build a new building on the Spitler School campus. This brightly painted new building was used for the kindergarten class.
Foundation Development and New Buildings
At the end of 2006, the Spitler family established the Spitler School Foundation and was granted approval to become a 501c3 charitable foundation. The foundation’s mission is to provide ongoing financial support to the Spitler School.
After three years, the original buildings deteriorated from the severe Cambodian rains, and in 2007 the Spitler School Foundation was able to provide enough funds to replace the original 3 buildings with more permanent buildings constructed with steel frames and brick construction. The new classroom space allowed the school to continue to add another grade each year so that in September 2007 a 4th grade class was added, and the school’s student population expanded to over 320 students.
In September 2008, a 5th grade class was added and the total number of students at the school exceeded 400. In the fall of 2008, Danny and Pam Spitler returned to Cambodia along with Danny’s father, Irvin Spitler, and his sister, Kay Spitler. In a ceremony featuring the highest ranking political figure in the district, the Spitler’s were awarded Cambodian gold medals for their contribution to Cambodian education.
During their visit to Cambodia, the Spitler family had the opportunity to spend some good quality time with the teachers and students. They visited a nearby middle school where the Spitler School students will be attending after graduating from 6th grade. They also hosted a dinner for the school staff and their families, village leaders, and local dignitaries.
In early 2009, a small plot of additional land was purchased adjacent to the school, and an additional classroom was constructed to house the new 6th grade class. The building was named for Mr. Karsten Schroeder who generously provided funding for the building. In addition to the 6th grade classroom, the kindergarten building was completely renovated and updated. Upon completion of this classroom, it was christened the “Rae and Kay Spitler Kindergarten Building.” Rae is Danny Spitler’s mother, and Kay is his sister. Both ladies have made generous contributions in supporting the mission of the Spitler School over the course of the school’s history.
In addition to the financial support provided by the Spitler family, the school has received donations from a number of individual donors as well as some service organizations. Several tourist groups have visited the school and have donated school supplies, sports equipment, and even rubber sandals for the students. Other donors have provided funding to purchase school uniforms for the children and to sponsor individual classrooms and students.
In September 2009, the school reached its goal of having a full primary school serving children from kindergarten through 6th grade. The enrollment for the 2009-2010 school year reached 470 students, and the school had a staff of 7 teachers, 1 administrator, and 2 security guards in addition to Sarin, who continues to oversee the operations of the school.
In late September 2009, a devastating typhoon hit the area around the school causing serious flooding and destruction to roads, buildings and agriculture. The Spitler School was not seriously damaged, but the road into the village became impassable, and the students’ families were faced with food shortages and the potential of an epidemic of malaria and dengue fever due to unsanitary standing water and mosquito-born illness.
The Spitler School Foundation, with the help of generous donors, began purchasing rice supplies and mosquito nets to distribute to the families of the school’s students. During the latter half of 2009 a large supply of rice and nets were distributed throughout the local village to the families of the school’s students.
Other community projects funded by the Spitler School Foundation include the building of a road into the village, providing concrete rubbish bins for burning trash, furnishing water filtration systems for student and village use, funding sports teams, and encouraging village participation in graduation and holiday celebrations at the school.
Working on the village road
Volunteers and Scholarships
Beginning in early 2010, Spitler School began accepting Western volunteers to provide assistance to the Khmer staff and help develop a more comprehensive English program. In the following two years, the school was fortunate to have volunteers working at the school, for various periods of time from the U.S., England, Scotland, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Japan, and Singapore. Currently Mr. Jim Latt [linked to team page] of the U.S., and Ms. Loll Thorne [linked to team page] of England, have generously committed to serve as long-term volunteers serving the school as Volunteer Coordinators.
Jim and Loll, along with the Khmer staff, have initiated a comprehensive English program that begins in Kindergarten and continues through all grades. Spitler School has been able to generate funding that has allowed for the hiring of Khmer English instructors. Loll Thorne, along with her husband Nick, have dedicated countless hours to developing this program and providing teacher training to the Khmer staff in the art of English instruction. Volunteers understand that Spitler School is a Khmer school with Khmer administration and a Khmer teaching staff. The volunteers are there to support the Khmer staff and to work within the Khmer culture.
With the assistance of Ashley McDonald (school volunteer in 2010) and other generous donors, Spitler School was able to establish scholarship funds for the graduating class of 2010. These graduates were provided with bicycles, uniforms, school supplies and a monthly stipend of cash and food supplies for their families. Additional English instruction was also offered to these graduates. These incentives are provided to the students as long as they are attending their middle school and achieving passing grade levels. This class has been able to defy the odds where a large percentage of Khmer students drop out of school after 6th grade.
Scholarship funds were also raised for the 2011 graduating class. Bicycles, uniforms and school supplies were provided to the graduates enabling them to continue their education in middle school. Spitler School celebrates the student’s success with an impressive graduation ceremony each July attended by student families, village leaders, and local government officials.