Service to Others

Bellingham Community School in Phnom Dek, Cambodia

In 2003 and 2004, the Bellingham community, under the vision and direction of local businessman Hamilton (Ham) Hayes raised funds to build a middle school #253 (named Bellingham Community School) in Phnom Dek, Cambodia, a rural region of Cambodia still devastated by the Khmer Rouge era, and previously without a school above the sixth grade level. Many Bellingham businesses, business organizations, and individuals contributed to the funds via direct contributions, raffles, and other fund raising efforts.

In the summer of 2004, Ham approached the principal of Assumption Catholic School Anne Brand, to ask if the school community would partner with him in an effort to provide continued communication between the children in the Cambodian school and Assumption school children, as well as the sustaining funds for the salary of a teacher of English and computer skills for the children in the school. Believing strongly in the need for social justice throughout the world, Mrs. Brand agreed.

In the winter of 2006, two Assumption school families and an Assumption middle school teacher Betsy Gottschalk traveled to Cambodia with Ham, his wife Gloria, and two other community members to witness the opening ceremonies of the Bellingham Community School in Phnom Dek. The visiting Bellingham contingent met with the regional school administrator, the principal, and the teachers at the Bellingham Community School. The following requests, including a well so that students at the school could grow vegetables for their meals at school, a dormitory for students traveling great distances to attend school, and a second solar panel so that an additional computer could be run at the school, were their top priorities. In 2009, Assumption Catholic School second grade teacher Liberty Sponek received a grant to create the School Garden Project in Bellingham and partner with Common Threads Farm. The successful garden quickly became a source of funding to continue supporting the Bellingham Community School.

In the fall of 2011, a contingent from Assumption Catholic School, including three teachers, Betsy Gottschalk, Liberty Sponek, and Jill VonFeldt, and three school families returned to Cambodia with Ham and his wife to follow-up with the Bellingham Community School. Enough money was raised to dig the well, which was the first well in the village of Phnom Dek. The well now allows the students at the school in Cambodia to grow their own vegetable garden. The group also supplied bicycles, a solar panel, four computers and desperately needed school supplies to the Bellingham Community School students.

When the group returned to Bellingham, they also made it their mission to educate current students, parents, faculty and the larger community about the current situation in Cambodia and the continuing needs for support there.

We at Assumption are hoping to raise the funds to build a dormitory for the students in Cambodia who travel over forty miles to attend the school (currently those students live in a wooden hut with dirt floors), as well as lighting and food for those students. Eventually we plan to add additional electricity via additional solar panels to run more computers. The one solar panel provides electricity for the school during the daytime. The school, village, and region have no electrification.

For more information, please contact Betsy Gottschalk at Assumption Catholic School at 360-733-6133 or bgottschalk@school.assumption.org.