We are happy to share this report on Pam’s and my recent visit to Cambodia to visit the school in person. This was our third trip to Siem Reap, and we have been looking forward to this visit for many months. We are also really happy that my father, Irvin, and my sister, Kay, were able to join us on this trip along with Dad’s partner, Cheryl Turner, and one of Kay’s friends and a fellow teacher, Melissa Fox. We started the trip in Thailand where Pam managed to break a bone in her foot stepping over a railing after exiting a tour boat, but she survived the rest of the trip using a high-tech air cast, crutches, and wheelchairs.
After a week in Thailand we took a late flight to Siem Reap on November 20. We emerged from the airport to be greeted by Sarin and several of the teachers from the school. They had beautiful bouquets of flowers to present to each of us, and we were loaded into a large van and delivered to our rooms at the Somadevi Hotel. As soon as everyone had their rooms assigned Sarin whisked me off to a nearby restaurant where the teachers, village leaders and others were going over all the final arrangements for the ceremony scheduled at the school for the following morning.
We were up early on Friday, November 21 so that we could arrive at the school well before the ceremony, which was scheduled to start at 9:00. We arrived to find hundreds of our students and other villagers lining the little roadway leading into the school and welcoming our arrival.
We were surprised at how large the ceremony was going to be. Sarin had arranged for a beautifully decorated stage with room for all of us, along with many dignitaries, and several Buddhists monks. There was also a temporary tent set up with hundreds of chairs for seating for the school students and villagers who were invited to the ceremony.
We got underway with the arrival of His Excellency Okgna Sieng Num. Sieng is a member of the Cambodian parliament and is the highest-ranking political figure in the Siem Reap area, probably the equivalent of a US Senator here in the States. He was accompanied by the District Mayor.
Once we were all on stage Sieng and the Mayor received blessings from the monks and, after a welcoming speech by Sarin we were treated to a children’s dance performance, and a group of the Spitler School students sang the Cambodian National Anthem. My speech was followed by a speech from the District Mayor and then there was a speech by Sieng Num.
Sarin served as my interpreter, but for all the other speeches Sarin had pre-printed the speeches in both English and Khmer so that we could all follow what was being said.
After all the speeches there was more traditional Khmer music and then it was time for Sieng Num to present Cambodian Gold Medals to me and Pam and Dad for our contributions to Cambodian society. Kay, Cheryl, and Melissa were all presented with certificates of appreciation from the Cambodia Ministry of Education.
At the end of the ceremony Pam and I presented coffee table books on Arizona to Sieng Num and the District Mayor along with Arizona Highways calendars to all of other dignitaries who were attending the ceremonies. We all certainly felt very honored and appreciated by end of the ceremonies.
The following morning a story on the ceremony made the local newspaper, and over the next couple of days a video of the awards presentation ran on four different Cambodian television stations. Pam and I happened to be having dinner at Sarin’s house when he received a phone call, raced to the TV set, and turned it on just in time for us to watch ourselves on one of the national Cambodian stations.
Sarin did an amazing job of planning and coordinating this event, which we hope will lead to more visibility about the educational needs in Cambodia. It also provided our little impoverished village with a great sense of pride and dignity, as well as raising the profile of our school and our students.
We spent the next two days touring the amazing, ancient temples of the region, including the incomparable Angkor Wat, and we also visit the floating villages located on the biggest lake in Southeast Asia. However, on Monday morning we were back at the school for an all morning visit with just the teachers and students. Cheryl had donated funds to buy each of the students a pair of flip flops, the primary foot wear in Cambodia, and Kay, Melissa and their friends back in Phoenix had sent school supplies which they presented to each of the teachers.
On Monday evening we hosted an appreciation dinner at one of the local restaurants and invited all of the teachers and the village leaders along with their families. We also invited the principle of the middle school where our kids will begin attending after 6th grade, tour guides who have supported the school, and representatives from the Ministry of Education. We also invited our new friend John Yoder who is in Cambodia working for an organization called Reaching Kids. John is from Prescott doing missionary work along with his new wife, Sotey. In addition to joining us for dinner John and Sotey brought $100 worth of books for our library and school supplies which they presented to our teachers from the Reaching Kids, International organization. John and Sotey’s website is www.cambodiamissions.com.
It was a grand evening full of fun and food and Cambodian beer, and we were happy to share the evening with both new and old friends, all of whom share our hope for a better future for Cambodian children. Sarin’s wife Mary, pictured above in the pink top, joined us for dinner despite being past her “due date.” Two days later she gave birth to a healthy new daughter.
We will close this letter by expressing our sincere appreciation to all of those who are so supportive of this project. We also appreciate all your prayers and concerns for our safety during this trip.
Daniel & Pam Spitler
Spitler School Foundation
P.O. Box 730
Peoria, AZ 85380
“Resource Providers for Cambodian School Children”
IRS EIN # 20-8085411