MILTON — By now, most in the Milton Area School District know something of history teacher Mike Conn and his students’ efforts to aid Cambodia.
Junior Larissa Luu, student president of Team Cambodia, put it this way to her peers Friday during a special assembly before the winter break.
If the earth’s population could be shrunk to 100 people, keeping all existing human ratios remaining the same, there would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 North Americans, 14 South Americans and eight Africans.
In addition, 70 would be non-white, the same amount would also be non-Christian. Fifty percent of the world’s wealth would be in the hands of six people, all from the United States. A staggering 70 would not be able to read, 50 would suffer from malnutrition and 80 would live in sub-standard housing.
In all, only one would have a college education.
“When one considers our world from such an incredibly compressed perspective, the need for tolerance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent,” Luu said.
Pulling on the heart strings of many, she and Conn shared the sad story of Cambodia as it is today. For decades, civil war and a ruthless regime have left the nation among the poorest in the world.
In the mid to late 1970s, the government murdered or starved more than 2 million of its 6 million citizens, including teachers, artists, political opponents and even children.
Through his own experiences, Conn feels called to help the country’s people, specifically the children. Most Cambodian children don’t go to school and struggle to survive in villages without electricity. They are frequently forced to drink and bath in filthy water. In addition, unexploded mines from past conflicts continue to wreak havoc on rural villages. Some officials estimate several million buried mines remain in Cambodia.
In November, Conn proposed to the school board that he lead the efforts, along with his advanced placement U.S. history class, to raise $30,000 to build a secondary school in the Southeast Asia country through the organization American Assistance for Cambodia, which has already built 300-some schools there.
The school, which would be named after Milton, would come with furnishings, textbooks, teachers, solar panels for electricity, a computer lab, Internet access and a well to provide fresh water.
The board was happy to give their blessings.
Since then, the fund-raising efforts have begun through many different avenues, including “Team Cambodia” T-shirt and bracelet sales, spaghetti dinner, dress down day for teachers and others. A faculty versus seniors basketball game is being planned for 2008. The other schools in the district are planning to get involved, such as the middle school holding a dance.
Before Friday, the student body at the high school was not directly told of the plan to raise the money by the end of the school year. Now everybody knows they have a chance to be a part of something special.
“It’s opened eyes to what it’s like out there,” Luu said.
Junior Nicole Smith of Milton, another member of Team Cambodia, noted while a private school in Washington has sponsored a school in Cambodia, Milton could be the first public school to follow suit.
“If every student in the high school raised $32 each, it would be enough,” Conn said of the 800-some students. “I can help motivate but it will be up to these folks (the student members).”
Conn believes they may have banked about $2,000 thus far.
Soon the students will plan to make presentations to the community, such as to the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.
Donations to the project, which are tax deductible, should be made to: Team Cambodia, c/o Mike Conn, Milton High School, 700 Mahoning St., Milton, Pa. 17847.
For students, cash donations are being accepted in Conn’s classroom (209).