Thursday, 3 July 2008

Brittany Enterkin reaches out from Fayette County to Cambodia....

The Cambodian students Brittany Enterkin is helping changed her life, she says

Fayette Daily News
By Trey Alverson

Over a year ago, Brittany Enterkin caught a segment on the evening news that changed her life.

“The feature was on the impoverished villages of rural Cambodia that are still struggling to recover from the genocide of the Khmer Rouge years, which killed over a million people,” Enterkin recalled.

“Children are still being sold into slavery, people are barely surviving and many rural areas don’t even have the most basic services like clean water and schools.

“Before I saw the report, I didn’t know anything at all about Cambodia or Pol Pot or the Killing Fields.

To be honest, I couldn’t even point out Cambodia on a globe.“But, once I saw the report, I felt like I needed to do something.”

The Fayetteville teenager began by contacting Bernard Krisher, the former Newsweek Tokyo bureau chief and founder of the non-profit organization American Assistance for Cambodia.

Since retiring from journalism, Krisher has dedicated himself to reaching out to Cambodia’s most vulnerable communities.

His organization launched the Rural Schools Project in 1999, and has since helped build over 400 enriched primary and lower secondary schools in Southeast Asia.

“He explained the program to me and it sounded like something that we could do,” Enterkin said.

The Rural Schools Project seeks out private donors like Enterkin to sponsor the construction of a school in a village that currently lacks one.

The donors must raise $13,000 for the school, while Krisher’s organization secures matching funds from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Undaunted by her full load of extracurricular activities and AP classes at Whitewater High School, Enterkin set out to raise money for the construction of a Cambodian school.

She tirelessly solicited for donations, organized a catered dinner, held a benefit rock concert and put on a theatrical performance.

“We ended up raising $17,000,” Enterkin stated. “I could never have done it all by myself. So many people helped out and contributed their skills and money.”

And little over two months ago, the Steve and Mary Enterkin School officially opened in the village of Kon Trac, Cambodia. Brittany Enterkin named the school after her parents.

On June 4, with the encouragement of Krisher, Enterkin, her parents and her older sister Christian flew to Cambodia to see the school in person.

“When I met with Bernard, he said that he would like it if we actually went out and formally dedicated the school,” Enterkin explained.

“At first it didn’t seem possible. It is very expensive to fly over there, but my Dad planned it as my graduation gift and my family and friends helped out with the expenses.”

The Enterkins flew from Atlanta to Thailand via California. From Bangkok, they took a plane to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and largest city.

The same city that Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot completely evacuated three decades ago as part of his disastrous plan to return Cambodia to a totally communal agrarian society.

“The poverty in the capital was completely overwhelming,” Enterkin said.

“Police officers don’t work at all on the weekends, so the crime is rampant.

There are dirt roads in the city and a river filled with sewage flows right through the middle of town.”

The Enterkins visited the elaborately decorated Cambodian royal palace and met with a translator and local officials.

After a night in Phnom Penh, the family embarked on a four and a half hour journey by car to the remote jungle village of Kon Trac.

“When we drove into the town, the kids were lined up in parallel lines along the side of the road clapping their hands,” Enterkin said.

“The schoolchildren and local leaders were ecstatic that we were there. They were so genuinely thankful to have the opportunity for an education.

“As it was, the only goal people in the village had was to have a rice paddy to farm and if they were privileged or lucky, they might get a cow.”

Enterkin delivered a speech through her translator. The new students then sang a song that they had prepared in English specially for the Enterkins.

“They sang, ‘If You’re Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands,’” Enterkin said. “It was great.”

A local official also spoke at the school’s dedication ceremony. He shared his nightmarish experiences of living under the Khmer Rouge.

“His story and all the stories you hear are heart-wrenching,” Enterkin stated.

“This man in particular was assigned to work in a rice field, but he would be killed if he tried to eat any of the rice he was harvesting.“So there he was, literally starving to death and unable to eat the food in his hands.

“He said that he managed to survive by collecting and eating grasshoppers under the cover of night.”

The Enterkin family spent just one day in the village, traveling back that night to accommodations in Phnom Penh, but it was a day that they will never take for granted.

“When I was in that village I wanted to break down and cry,” Brittany Enterkin said.

“I was standing there in the heat, seeing the poverty and at the same time, seeing how thankful everyone was.

We were the first westerners these people had ever encountered. “I was standing there thinking that I wished everyone could see this.”

Brittany’s mother Mary Enterkin called her experience at the village, “The highlight of my life.”

Both mother and daughter agreed that the trip left them with an overwhelming urge to do more for the less fortunate.“It’s really not that hard to do,” Brittany Enterkin said.

“Anyone anywhere is capable of helping somebody. I hope people will see that if I can do something like this, anyone can.”

Before she begins any new large scale humanitarian projects, Enterkin will spend the remainder of the summer near Rome, Georgia working as a camp counselor.

Her freshman classes at Berry College begin in the fall.In the meantime, Enterkin’s close friend Sarah Crawford continues to raise money for the Uganda Orphanage Relief Fund.

“Because of what Brittany was able to do, I knew it would be possible for me to make a difference,” Crawford said.

“What Brittany did was incredible.”Crawford, also a recent Whitewater graduate, has already raised over $5,000 for her cause.

No comments: