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School House Report – December 2008 Part 1

At the time of this writing Pam and I have just returned from Cambodia, but the family and friends who accompanied us on this trip are still stuck in Bangkok, Thailand. We were all caught up in the events of November 25-26 when thousands of Thai protesters occupied the international airport in Bangkok shutting down all flight operations in a siege that continues four days later.

 

My father, Irvin, my sister, Kay, and their friends Cheryl and Melissa were preparing to board their flight home in the early morning of November 26 when the airport was closed. They were stuck in the airport all day, but eventually were transferred to a hotel in Bangkok where they remain today with little hope of leaving until at least December 3.

While at the airport they spoke to some of the protesters who were occupying the airport. They were polite and were concerned about the travelers’ comfort at the same time they were screwing up their travel plans. Kay and Cheryl were both quoted in an Associated Press article that was circulated around the world a few hours after the protesters occupied the airport.

 

Pam and I had remained in Cambodia for an extra day before our planned departure for Bangkok, which was scheduled for the afternoon of November 26. Obviously our flight to Bangkok was cancelled. We remained in Siem Reap, Cambodia for two days, but then we were able to travel from Siem Reap to Saigon, Vietnam, and then home via Hong Kong and San Francisco. Needless to say, it was an interesting adventure and, while we know that our family and friends are safe, we are hopeful that they will be able to come home soon.

 

With that bit of explanation out of the way I am extremely pleased to share the story of our third visit to Cambodia and some exciting news and photos from our visit to the Spitler School.

 

Not only have we been looking forward to this visit for many months, but we were 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”
http://dannypam.smugmug.com/gallery/2466201_eEC9c

IRS EIN # 20-8085411

School House Report – October 2008

September was an exciting month at the Spitler School as we began our fourth year of operations with the addition of a fifth grade class and a “first day of school” for approximately 400 students.

 

The first day of the 2008-2009 school year began with a ceremony welcoming the students back to class, which the parents are encouraged to attend. Sarin continues to provide great leadership for all aspects of the school in between his paying job as a tour guide and preparation for the arrival of his second child. Mary is due on Nov. 11. We look forward sharing this happy event with Sarin and Mary.

 

 

 

 

 

In the days leading up to the start of the school year Sarin arranged for some additional landscaping to be added to the campus. As some of our earlier plants begin to mature, and the gardens continue to grow, the campus is taking on the look of a beautiful sanctuary in the midst of a village still suffering from poverty.

 

 

We also send out our thanks to a local organization that has sent volunteers to the school to provide free haircuts to many of our students.

 

 

Of course our big news is that Pam and I will be returning to Cambodia to visit the school in about three weeks. We will be visiting Thailand first, but we will be arriving in Cambodia on November 20, and we will be participating in a ceremony at the school on November 21, featuring some of the local dignitaries and including a member of the Cambodian Parliament. Upon our return at the end of November we look forward to sharing lots of new information and photos from our visit.

 

We are especially happy to have my father, Irvin Spitler, and my sister, Kay Spitler, joining Pam and I on this trip, along with friends Cheryl Turner and Melissa Fox.

 

In addition to showing our family and friends the amazing temple ruins of Angkor Wat and the other wonderful attractions of the area, we plan to make a visit to the Angkor Children’s Hospital and to visit the secondary school where our graduates will attend when they have completed 6th grade at the Spitler School. We are looking forward to adding to our own education about the local culture and meeting new friends.

 

Cambodia has been hit, along with most countries in the world, with heavy increases in their cost of living, in particular fuel and rice. We have given all of our teachers a raise in salary to $100 per month starting in September, and we added a new teacher for our fifth grade class. However, even with the additional salary costs, we continue to be able to cover the basic monthly expenses with around $1300 per month. It is still an amazing value to provide an education for so many needy children. During our visit we will be planning for at least one additional construction project as we prepare for our last class addition (6th grade in September, 2009), and we will be looking at other new initiatives that can be explored to continually improve conditions at the school as well as the surrounding village.

 

We continue to receive nice contributions from several supporters which helps provide resources to spend on uniforms, student supplies, library books, etc. We also continue to have tourist groups visiting the school and contributing pencils, notebooks and other needed supplies for the children. For all of these generous contributions we are sincerely grateful, especially during these very tough economic times.

 

Thank your for your continuing interest in the progress of the Spitler School.

 


 

Daniel Spitler, President
Spitler School Foundation
P.O. Box 730
Peoria, AZ 85380
“Resource Providers for Cambodian School Children”
http://dannypam.smugmug.com/gallery/2466201_eEC9c

IRS EIN # 20-8085411

School House Report – August 2008

At the end of July, the 07-08 school year came to a close, and the Spitler School wrapped up its third year of existence with a celebratory year-end party. The party consisted of music, games, and snacks for the children and a lunch for the teachers and their families, village leaders, and special guests. The children were treated to the great American soft drink, Coca Cola.

 


 

 

A week prior the year end party the school had another exciting event as our daughter Lindsey Spitler visited the school with her good friend Jana Clegg. Lindsey and Jana celebrated their 30th birthdays by traveling to Thailand and then Cambodia. Of course Sarin and his wife Mary were wonderful hosts, and Sarin guided them through the amazing temples of Cambodia as well as making all the arrangements for a great visit to the school. Lindsey wrote the following comments about her visit to the Spitler School.

 

 

 

I was overwhelmed with the warm welcome and smiling faces of all the children.

When I visited each classroom, I was greeted with a song and excitement from the children.  My friend, Jana Clegg, who is an elementary teacher in Arizona, was amazed at how well all the children behaved.  I asked them what was their favorite subject, and they all replied, “English!”  They proved it too at recess when a number of the students were bold enough to approach me and ask me questions to practice their English – “What is your name?” “How many siblings do you have?” “How old are you?” etc.

At times during recess there would frequently be students standing close to me with their hands behind their backs.  Once they gathered enough courage, they would reveal in their hands a folded piece of paper, and with wide eyes, say, “For you.”  Inside the folds of the paper were crayon drawings ripped from their notebooks – treasures from their imagination.

Only three years ago these children were spending their days in the fields, tending to their chores, or just sitting at home.  Three years later they are singing songs, reading and writing, learning English, and giving hope to their community.

Before he built the school, Sarin asked the children of the community if they wanted a school.  The children replied, “We would be lucky to be able to go to school.”  They certainly have exceeded our expectations.

 

 


 

Jana is a teacher and Lindsey is an attorney working in the U.S. Justice Department, but they both love to travel (don’t know where Lindsey gets that from???).

 

While Lindsey and Jana were at the school they were recruited to help make several presentations. The Kiwanis Club of Phoenix donated funds to purchase uniforms for 50 of the students along with some mosquito nets for some of the village families. Lindsey and Jana enjoyed being able to make these presentations to the students and the villagers.

 


 

 

 

Lindsey and Jana were also able to make another special presentation as we awarded brand new bicycles to the two top students for the school year. We presented these bicycles to Sngoun Kiley from the 3rd grade class and to Meng Seng Hour from the 4th grade class. We are very proud of them for their hard work and academic success.

    


 

We also want to acknowledge and say thank you to the Lyon Travel Agency. This agency schedules numerous Elderhostel groups for visits to the Spitler School throughout the year. Recently they brought a group of grandparents and grandchildren. This group asked to participate in a work project at the school. We have been in need of a parameter fence to protect the school from wandering animals that can damage the buildings and the gardens. The Elderhostel group provided some funds for materials and pitched in to help with this project in the hot Cambodian weather. Other members of the group helped out with the painting of one of our classrooms.

 


 

 

We also send a thank you to three of our teachers, who have agreed to give up their August break and continue to teach a summer school session for 100 students needing extra help with their studies.

 

Finally, we will close the 07-08 school year by expressing our heartfelt gratitude to the many donors who have provided financial support to the school during the past academic year. We have had just over 50 individuals and groups who have made donations to help with this very special project. We also want to acknowledge the following individuals and groups who have sent donations in the last couple of months since our last newsletter.

 

Lyon Travel Agency

Rae Spitler, matriarch of the Spitler Clan

Angela Lopes, a regular contributor from Australia

Terry Lyman, one of our regular contributors from Boston

Beverley Maxwell and all her friends in Seattle

(Beverley recently held a book party and fundraiser with a Cambodia theme)

Lillian Schanfield, an Eldelhostel Traveler

Susan Galliher, one of our fellow travelers

Joan Gilbert & Joel Armstrong, visitors to the school

Mike and Marsha Lyons, friends from Scottsdale

Ibett Garcia, a generous employee of Oak Craft

 

Pam and I look forward to the coming school year and the beginning of our first 5th grade class. We are looking forward to our return visit to Cambodia in November, when we will be accompanied by my father and sister, who have both been great supporters of the school. We also send our best wishes and congratulations to Sarin and his wife Mary. They are expecting their second child in November, so we just might be there in time to welcome a new baby into the world.

 


Spitler School Foundation
P.O. Box 730
Peoria, AZ 85380
“Resource Providers for Cambodian School Children”
http://dannypam.smugmug.com/gallery/2466201_eEC9c

IRS EIN # 20-8085411