In 2006 a group of Assumption freshmen in AP Human Geography learned about the horrible conditions girls their own age experienced in Cambodia as a result of the actions of the Khmer Rouge — the Communist party of Cambodia that won in the country’s civil war and installed their own government in 1975. Led by the totalitarian dictator Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge engaged in systematic genocide. As a means of controlling people opposing their view, they wiped out Cambodia’s whole system of education and killed many teachers. This created a condition in which girls especially were not given the opportunity for an education, and because they didn’t have other means of providing for themselves, they were used as sex slaves.
At that time, the Assumption students were horrified to learn even in this modern age, human trafficking still goes on with girls their own age in places like Cambodia. They decided that education would be the way to help young women.
Over the next three years, the students researched, planned, and raised roughly $15,000 to actually build a school in Cambodia serving both boys and girls in grades 7 through 9. The name of the school is “Change: Hope Through Education” and is located in a rural, high-poverty area. There is a large sign on the side of the school that says, “Change: Hope Through Education donated by Assumption High School, Louisville, KY.” The principal Mr. Pom Pin has reported that in the first school year there were 127 students in grade 7 only. Today, there are 234 students in the school, including 131 girls and 103 boys with six classes. Last year, 95% of the school’s ninth-graders passed the exams that allow them to advance to high school.
On September 23, 2016 Assumption High School celebrated international Mercy Day at an all-school assembly in which the ten alumnae responsible for making the school a reality were honored — 10 years after the school was founded. These alumnae shared their work on the Cambodian school with Assumption’s current students to help them learn more about the effort. In addition, these alumnae were awarded a medal from the Sisters of Mercy under a program called, “Who Will Tell the Story?” This initiative seeks to recognize alumnae who have graduated from Mercy-sponsored schools and gone on to make mercy real through their words and deeds.
When the Cambodian school began, it included an English teacher and computer teacher, but over time there wasn’t enough funds to continue their employment. With the recent increased awareness of the school, Assumption’s current students decided to raise funds so the Cambodian school can offer these resources to their students. Through monies raised during a uniform-free day on Dec. 9 combined with a donation from Assumption, $5,290 will be donated to the Change: Hope Through Education School. This donation will pay to have electricity hooked up to the school, cover an electricity fee, two new computers, the salary of a computer/English teacher, English language textbooks for first through sixth levels, a CD player with an English language CD, and a GPRS internet connection.
“Assumption High School chose to participate in this outreach because of our concern for education, women’s issues, and service to those who are most vulnerable,” shared Assumption’s director of campus ministry Mary Ann Steutterman. “Catholic schools teach their students to have both a global and local perspective on caring for the needs of vulnerable people. Additionally, Catholic schools not only teach students how to think critically and engage in problem-solving, they also teach them how to use those skills to answer the call of the gospel and make the world a better place,” Steutterman added.
The cost to keep the computer and English teacher at the Cambodian school after the first year is just $3,710 and Assumption has committed to raising the money to keep this in place into the future. A new club is developing at Assumption called the Global Outreach Club. It seeks to actively involve students in both supporting refugees and immigrants at home in Louisville as well as supporting the Cambodian school across the globe.