Sunday, January 8, 2012

Year end thoughts for The Savong Foundation




This was the best year ever for the Savong Foundation!

I can say that with 100% honesty since the Savong Foundation became official on May 4, 2011.  On that day, we received our 501(c)(3) paperwork from the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which allows American contributions to be tax deductible.  This process took nine months from start to finish and involved a lot of fun paperwork with interesting challenges like “Show us proof that you are not  funding terrorist organizations within Cambodia.”  I wanted to write that all of the children promised me that they would never ever build nuclear weapons at the SOC (Savong Orphan Center) but from what I hear, the IRS does not have a sense of humor. 

In Cambodia, it seems that progress can be a slow painful process.  Savong doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy because in 2011, it seemed like his projects were evolving at a rapid pace.  At the Savong School, a new outdoor classroom was built and free Korean instruction was added to the curriculum.  (English and Japanese were already being taught).  Three of the older students (Pomsen, Orong and Seyha) signed up for University and they received their tuitions, living expenses, a laptop and a small amount of spending money thanks to generous donations from their international sponsors.  Savong also made the decision to go back to school because he clearly does not have enough to do in his spare time despite the fact that he welcomed a new baby into the world.  (A big welcome to Lucky!) 

After a short downtime, the Medical Clinic at the SOC was back up and running.  Dr. Phin Sopheak leads the helm and she sees about fifteen patients a day at no charge from the surrounding community as well as from the SOC.  Also at the SOC, a full time guardian, Nan, was hired and the child safety policy was implemented (you can read about it here http://www.savong.com/ChildSafety/tabid/173/Default.aspx).   The care, well being and happiness of the children at the SOC are always a top priority and if you have ever visited this care center, you know that they deserve the best!     

Construction of the new student center began this year and we are still doing some finishing touches.  This will be the home for the older students (ranging in age from 15 to 24) who are attending the local high school or the university.  All the land and construction costs (which were considerable since Siem Reap is just not as cheap as you might think) came from private donations.  We hope to get the students into this facility by January or February at the latest.    

For me, the most fun I had this year was the trip to Cambodia in mid November.  I was there for a couple of weeks with the treasurer of the foundation, Eddie Lamborn.  I say “fun” but for most of the visit, it was all about business and there never enough hours in our days.  Savong was gracious with his time and we discussed current projects and future ambitions.  We had a great discussion about needs and wants and Savong was very helpful in teaching us about the Cambodian culture.  That knowledge is essential; if you want to help a population of people, the first step is understanding them.  And Cambodians are not Americans.  Or Australians.  Or British.  That seems obvious but it is amazing how ingrained the Western culture can be and without even realizing it, visitors such as ourselves can make judgements which are misinformed or worse, just plain wrong.  In other words, I learned that working in Cambodia means leaving a lot of cultural baggage at home where it belongs.  

What is in store for 2012?  The main focus for the foundation at this point is getting the student center operational and making sure that the students learn as much at school as they do outside of school.  We do not want to make them into adults who are dependent on outside help but instead want to foster their independence while working as a team with the other students.  When we were in Cambodia, we interviewed all of them and I’m excited about all the potential they hold.  There is no question in my mind that they have what it takes to make the most of the wonderful opportunities that they have been given.  Beyond the student center, there are some other exciting projects on the horizon which will be discussed with Savong, Duncan (in New Zealand) and the foundation.  We are working hard on improving the website (stay tuned!) and a fundraiser dinner is in the works for February. 

As always, I want to say a huge (HUGE) thanks to all of you.  Your commitment, financial or otherwise, is much appreciated and without your help, there is no way that we could do the things that we do.  I had no idea that the foundation would take up as much time as it does but it is worth it because the kids are worth it.  If you haven’t been to Cambodia yet, I hope you do someday because you will see what I mean first hand.  For those who have been to the Kingdom of Wonder, you know exactly what I’m talking about.   The foundation is dedicated to making their lives better and we will do so with both accountability and transparency. 

Please continue with us on our journey. 

Have a great 2012!

Phil Caldwell
CEO The Savong Foundation

1 comment:

PAVAN ANANTH said...

Awesome post Phil!
I am heading to Cambodia again for my Chinese New Year holidays..
I have been talking with Savong and the primary aim now is to get the Student center up and running after finishing touches to the construction..

I am hoping to be there when the students move in and embrace the Student Center as their new home!