Cambodian students Sompeas Sokh and Veun Voan impressed and inspired a group of local donors at The Australian Club on November 17.
The 17-year-olds were brought to Melbourne by the Palti family, which established the Cambodia Rural School Trust (CRST) after visiting the country as volunteers in 2009.
The Paltis found that local non-government organisations (NGOs) often benefitted the organisations rather than people in need, so they started their own in 2011 with 22 students.
Today 72 students are in the program, with the first university graduates expected soon.
Aviv Palti explained that the NGO selected “talented, disadvantaged children from rural Cambodia”.
He said the Pol Pot era had wiped out the country’s educated class so, consequently, education was generally not valued by parents.
Unlike other NGOs, CRST is primarily run by the students themselves and all students are also rotated through the various aspects of running a business.
They are also expected to volunteer their time for two hours a day, five days a week helping others in the community as well as perform one month’s community service each year in rural Cambodia.
“It’s a hand-up, not a hand-out,” Mr Paltis said. It costs $1000 to educate each of the students for a year.
Veun said education was having a ripple effect within his country. He said CRST was creating an inspired group of future leaders.
For further information, see www.cambodiaruralschooltrust.org