Danny and Pam Spitler are being honored as a Champions of Change for their service to the Kiwanis International.
Pam and I are certainly honored to be recognized as Champions of Change. Our lives are continually blessed and uplifted by the infectious smiles that we see on the faces of hundreds of young children—children who are receiving a primary education in one of the most impoverished countries in the world.
The Spitler School in Cambodia became a reality, not because of some grand vision or some large program. It started because a young Cambodian tour guide had a dream to help children in his country, and he asked two world travelers if they would help.
In 2005, when Pam and I arrived at the Siem Reap airport for a three-day tour of the temples of Angkor Wat, Chea Sarin introduced himself as our tour guide. Over the next three days, Sarin shared with us both the majesty and the tragedy of Cambodia. Its ancient temples spoke of a grand culture that thrived in the 11th and 12th centuries, but the country and its people were struggling to recover from years of war, genocide and crushing poverty.
Sarin was a small child when the Khmer Rouge ravaged Cambodia, killing millions of people, primarily anyone who was educated or had skills that could build a society. The Khmer Rouge killed Sarin’s father. His older brother and one of his sisters died in a Khmer Rouge labor camp. His grandmother pled with their captors to spare his life, and his mother led him and his sisters through battlefields to get to a refugee camp in Thailand. Sarin achieved an education with the help of Buddhists monks, worked at different jobs, and eventually was able to learn English and attend a school that trains tour guides.
After those three days together, we continued our friendship with Sarin through e-mail, and we assisted him in his efforts to drill some small water wells in villages where the families had no access to clean water. Then he shared with us his dream of building a small school in a village where no school existed. We agreed to help, and what began as a small wood-and-thatch classroom, designed for 50 students, quickly became a larger project when almost 200 children arrived for class in the fall of 2005.
Over the ensuing seven years, under Sarin’s leadership, the Spitler School has become a special place and a great example of what can be achieved. With a minimal amount of resources, using local talent and great collaboration, we have built a campus and a staff that provides a primary education to more than 500 beautiful children, most of whom live in abject poverty. By sharing the story, Pam and I have recruited many friends and family who help support this program, but the story has also spread into many corners of the world. We are blessed with volunteers and financial support from many countries, including our local Kiwanis club.
Danny and Pam Spitler formed the Spitler School Foundation to fund the school, which now provides a primary education to more than 600 children living in abject poverty