Sarin’s Story

Sarin with his wife and family

Mr. Chea Sarin, known as Sarin, has been the administrator of the Spitler School since its establishment in 2005. At 43 years old he lives a very busy life earning his living as a registered tour guide. While Sarin loves sharing the beauty, history and culture of his country with his clients he also spends much of his time fulfilling his dream to improve the lives of children.

With the help and support of his wife, Mary, and their two beautiful daughters Vita and Vitee, he has accomplished an amazing feat of building a primary school which serves over 600 children along with many other education related accomplishments. What he has accomplished is even more amazing when you consider what he had to endure during the first few years of his life. Those were years filled with tragedy and sadness, not only for Sarin and his family, but for everyone in Cambodia.

Sarin was born in 1974, the year of the Tiger. His mother, having borne eight daughters had prayed to the gods at the Angkor Wat Temple to give her just 1 son. On her return to their home town in the Sisophon district, some 60 kilometers from Siem Reap, she found that she was pregnant with Sarin. One year after Sarin’s birth the Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot came into force. When Sarin was only 2 years old his father was executed as the Khmer Rouge extremists went on a bloody genocide to rid the country of anyone with an education, whom they viewed a threat. Aside from the hundreds of thousands of killings, many people died indirectly at the hands of the Khmer Rouge due to starvation and disease. Sadly, 2 of Sarin’s sisters succumbed to starvation and another died from dengue fever, a disease that still afflicts thousands of children in Cambodia each year.


As a Child After the Khmer Rouge

A very young Sarin with his mother and sisters

The Khmer Rouge was defeated in 1979 but sadly this did not mark the end of Sarin’s unhappy childhood because in 1981, when Sarin was seven years old, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Sarin’s family decided to make the 125-kilometer walk to the border of Thailand in search of safety. The journey was hazardous since the countryside was blanketed with land mines, and the traveling refugees were in constant danger of being caught in fighting zones and bombings.

After traveling many days, Sarin’s family found refuge in a UN camp. There were many camps, but in this particular one there were approximately 1 million refugees, and life in the camps was also hazardous. At the age of 8, during his time at the camp, Sarin was sitting with his mother when a bullet came out of nowhere striking him in the arm. His uncle carried him to the nearest hospital where he received medical treatment and made a full recovery, although he still carries the scar from this frightening experience.

Still living in the camp, Sarin decided at the age of 12 to leave his family and live with Buddhist monks in order to gain an education. It was around the same time that Sarin’s mother became a Buddhist nun.

Three years later, Sarin moved to an orphanage supported by a Japanese NGO (non-governmental organization) which housed some 150 children. Sarin received a good education, and he was supplied with clothes, shoes and school supplies.

He graduated from school at the age of 18 and returned to his hometown to help his family on their farms by planting rice, etc. He did this for 1 year before moving to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, where he started working for a club owned by a Singaporean. He worked there for 5 years as a waiter and, later, as a supervisor until political unrest caused the foreign investors to return home, thus closing the club. During his time in Phnom Penh, Sarin suffered from a case of typhoid fever, which is very common in Cambodia due to the lack of clean water and sanitation. His experience added to his passion for helping others have access to clean water.


Sarin and Mary

Following His Passions After School

Sarin returned home, saved enough money to return to school, and enrolled in a tourism school. In 1999, he passed his exams and received his guide license and then moved to Siem Reap whose tourism industry was beginning to flourish. By 2001, tourism to the Siem Reap area was increasing and Sarin began earning a steady income. He met and married his wife Mary in a traditional Khmer wedding ceremony.

Sarin has met many kind travelers since starting out as a tour guide in Siem Reap and would often take them to the Ang Chagn village, which is deemed to be the poorest community in Siem Reap. When visitors learned of the diseases that many of the children endured due to the lack of clean water, many were willing to contribute to the drilling of small domestic water wells. Sarin was able to coordinate and supervise a number of these water well projects. In 2005, Sarin established an NGO called CMP so that his water well projects could be legally recognized and supported. Since establishing the NGO, Sarin has raised funds and supervised the drilling of approximately 125 water wells throughout Siem Reap and in his home town.

It was during these visits to the village that it became apparent to Sarin that very few children went to school. At one point he approached some boys who were fishing in the nearby canal and asked them why they were not attending school. They explained that the nearest school was too far away and that their families could not afford the school uniform or supplies needed to attend. Sarin asked if they would attend school if there was one nearby which provided uniforms and supplies to which they replied yes. It was at this stage that Sarin had the idea of building a local school in Ang Chagn village.

In early 2005, Sarin served as a guide for Danny and Pam Spitler, who were touring throughout Southeast Asia.  They were happy to make a contribution to allow Sarin to drill three water wells for needy villages, and they communicated regularly with Sarin upon their return home to Arizona in the U.S..


Spitler School Begins

During the spring of 2005, Sarin contacted Danny and Pam to determine their interest in assisting him with the project. The rest of the story of the Spitler School is celebrated on the pages of this website, as the partnership between Sarin and the Spitler family has grown into an amazing joint effort to make a difference in the lives of so many children.

In 2006, Irvin Spitler, Danny’s father, provided scholarship funds for Sarin to attend the University in Siem Reap where he graduated with an Bachelor’s Degree in Business.

Sarin is extremely thankful that his daughters are able to have the happy and carefree upbringing that he never had. His eldest daughter, Vita, who was born in 2003, is described by Sarin as having a good heart, often using her pocket money to buy presents for her less fortunate classmates. When Vita grows up she plans to follow in her father’s footsteps by helping support projects in the local community.  His second daughter, Vitee, was born in 2008 and loves reading and going to school.
Sarin’s mother, continues to live at Sarin’s family village. She comes to visit her children once or twice a year on special occasions such as Khmer New Year.

Sarin is extremely thankful of all the support and donations he has received from the many generous travelers he has met and the opportunities that he has had to make such a profound impact on the lives of hundreds of children.