From 1975 to 1979, a political organization called Khmer Rouge ruled the country of Cambodia, eventually destroying the education system and orchestrating a mass genocide. It is estimated that between 1.7 million to 2.5 million people were killed, including most of the teachers in the country. Since then education has been a persistent need in Cambodia, especially in rural areas.
Sterling Real Estate Group Owner Phil Dyer was stationed in Vietnam in the late 1960s, as part of the US Navy. The Khmer Rouge took over soon after Dyer left Southeast Asia, targeting the educated class including teachers and government officers. “I was so saddened and outraged that nobody would help these people,” Phil said. He learned about the Cambodia Rural Schools Program and decided to fund the building of a school in 2005. The organization enables organizations and individuals to build or adopt a school and provide essential needs like computer training, English lessons, vegetable gardens and more.
The structure is a brand new five classroom building replacing a thatched hut with a palm frond roof and no sides. The new school is 6500 square feet and is solid concrete. Phil and his family attended the grand opening in December of 2005. The school opened with 99 students and three teachers. Over time Sterling helped fund the addition of a well, vegetable garden, and a computer with a satellite link to send and receive email. They have also hired additional teachers and a nurse, as well as housing for the teachers, nurse, visiting teachers and other travelers who visit the school. “I think education is the base, the fundamental thing someone needs to have a chance. Unless you have an education, you’ll always be on the low end of poverty,” said Phil.
On a local level, contributions are made to HomePort Learning Center, an alternative school providing a transitional education program for adjudicated and at-risk youth of Whatcom County. The services are free to the families they serve, as most students come from low-income households. The organization was founded in 1994 in response to the Juvenile Court’s efforts to provide alternate options for these youth. It was found that 55% of the 287 juvenile offenders that year were not enrolled in school.
In conjunction with academics and vocational education, maritime education is also offered as they learn to sail, navigate small craft, plan, build and repair wooden boats. Class size is limited to only 8 students with a strong focus on building self-esteem and relevancy. The staff is able to be flexible and adjust the curriculum to most benefit the students. The organization has an 85% average success rate with many students transitioning back to public school, enrolling in college, or gaining employment.