CF has a sister school

Black Hawk School 4 Black Hawk School 3 Black Hawk School 2 Black Hawk School 1By: Dino Odobasic

After losing touch with the students she helped five years ago, the former president of a CFHS club has recently traveled all the way to a remote spot in Cambodia to reestablish ties to the school that she and many Cedar Falls students, staff and community members had made possible years ago.

Back in 2009, Cedar Fall High School funded an elementary school in Kampong Cham Province Memot District, Cambodia. In a drive coordinated by a high school club called Amnesty International, which had 2009 graduate Sheila Moussavi as president, the school district and community raised more than $15,000 in less than one semester, which was the set goal for the school.

Some of the fundraising that helped raise money for the school included a Pablo’s Night at Pablo’s Mexican Grill, a 5k walk/run, a penny drive, a spring choir concert, an art show, a “garage” sale that took place in the high school lobby during parent/teacher conferences and many other activities and donations from schools, businesses and local people. Within one year of receiving the funds from Cedar Falls, the Cambodian school was up and running.

The CFHS money was matched by a foundation that creates many schools in Cambodia in an effort to help reestablish education after the genocide that killed millions in the 1970s. Initially, some contact with the school was maintained, but it became increasingly difficult to sustain connections between the schools due to language barriers.

Moussavi set out this summer to rebuild those ties as she visited Cambodian staff and students to find out how they settled themselves in their new school.

The school serves nearly 115 students between 7th and 9th grades. Most of the students are girls, which is apparently quite rare since many young women in rural Cambodia are expected to work or marry on their family farms.

On Moussavi’s way back to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, her guide talked to her about how he had lost several family members under the Khmer Rouge, an organization that took over Cambodia and killed over 2 million Cambodians over the span of four years.

He and his family had been relocated to another labor camp outside of Phnom Penh and forced to work under backbreaking conditions. The lack of food and water killed his father and siblings, and yet he insisted that his family had been one of the more fortunate ones.

Back in 1975, the  Khmer Rouge formed and took over Cambodia. During this time public schools and other governmental buildings were turned into prisons or shut down. By 1976 they had complete control of the country. They massacred 2 million Cambodians over the span of only four years. They created a genocide and wiped out a fourth of the population.

While pretty much everyone suffered under the Khmer Rouge, educators and academics were among those explicitly targeted for extermination. Many of the schools were converted to torture prisons and others were just simply destroyed. The country’s school system had yet to recover.

”Perhaps the most extraordinary part of this experience was actually getting to meet those very students in person,” Moussavi said. She found that students are no longer hypothetical and are very grateful for their new school. She also discovered that while the school is fully functional, it could still use some help.

“It was incredible seeing what Cedar Falls created, but it was also a nice reminder that it doesn’t have to be a one-time contribution. The possible long-term impact is already evident, not only in Cambodia, but for the students at CF too. I hope we can find a way to maintain the relationship with Black Hawk School for years to come,” Moussavi said.

The adviser to the CFHS Amnesty International club back in 2009 was journalism teacher Brian Winkel, and he said he would also like to see some sort of push to help build a stronger tie to “our school in Cambodia.”

“Just a couple years ago, the district was looking to link with a sister school in China, but we really already have a link like that we’ve set up, and it could use our help. I think it would be awesome if we could raise some funds to set up computers and the Internet so they can explore the world on a global scale, and, selfishly, build a stronger connection to us. I would love to learn from them as much as they can learn from us,” Winkel said.

Winkel said Moussavi has some connections for making this a possibility and any Cedar Falls staff, students or community members interested in extending the assistance of Cedar Falls for education in Cambodia should contact him.

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