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Students raise funds for pen pals in Cambodia

SOLANA BEACH — When a group of fifth- and sixth-graders at Skyline School were shown pictures of their pen pals at Kaun Klong Primary School in Cambodia, they immediately noticed two anomalies.
Their oversees peers were wearing flip-flops, a dress-code violation at Skyline, and there was no equipment on the school playground. They were told the Cambodian children use a stuffed sock to play soccer.
So the students in Jackie Durward’s fifth- and sixth-grade global education class, along with Shannon Applegate’s fifth-graders, decided to change that. Within weeks, the 50 or so students organized an Olympathon fundraiser.
They assigned a committee, made fliers, planned activities and asked family members, friends and neighbors to sponsor them as they competed in a variety of games such as jump rope, basketball, Hula-Hoop and Frisbee.
“We felt we are so lucky,” said sixth-grader Isabelle Imacseng, whose father is coincidentally from Cambodia. “We have so much playground equipment. We thought we could help.”
“They heard we had swings and a slide,” sixth-grader Jordan Bohlken said. “They only have one slide in town and they said it’s old and rusty.”
Isabelle said when the students heard what their pen pals at Skyline were doing, they were very excited. “But mostly they gave us their blessings,” she said.
“We are so happy to hear that you and other friends are raising fund to support school,” wrote one Cambodian student named Phearum.
“Your school rooms are equiped with good materials for study. I would like to get like you too. We don’t have many sports materials. … May all the good things be always within you and your family,” Phearum wrote.
The Skyline students were introduced to the children at Kaun Klong by Jordan’s grandmother, Ginger Bohlken who, after making a trip around the world, was looking for a country where she could “really make a difference,” she said.
After researching communities in Africa and India, serendipity led Bohlken to the Cambodian village of Prey Tauch. In her yoga class, Bohlken met Nancy Bamberger, whose hairdresser, Chanra Chheum, is from Prey Tauch, one of the many villages devastated by the brutality and mass killings of the Khmer Rouge.
Bamberger shared her hairdresser’s stories with Bohlken, who eventually traveled to Prey Tauch. The trip included an eight-hour boat ride.
“I made a tremendous connection with the village,” Bohlken said. “There are 700 kids in the primary school. They have no water, no electricity and they are working in old buildings. But the children just stole my heart.”
With help from a Buddhist monk who spoke English, Bohlken connected the Cambodian students with her granddaughter’s class and the children became pen pals. As Bamberger’s group begins work on a new school for the village, the Skyline students set out to furnish the playground.
“I wanted to help immediately,” Jordan said. In about two weeks, the students organized the May 20 event and collected approximately $2,500.
“I am so proud of all of you,” said Durward, whose global education class focuses on world problems and issues.
“We have been studying about people who make a difference and who are heroes,” she said. “Today you become one of those people.”
City Councilman Joe Kellejian kicked off the games by asking the students if they were pumped up.
“I’m all pumped up too because you are part of making this the greatest school in the area,” he said, noting that two of his daughters attended Skyline.
“You are providing an example for all of us to follow,” Kellejian said. “We are proud and grateful for the efforts you are showing here today. We will all learn from you.”
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