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A Mission to Educate, from Half a World Away
Jessica Fuhrman ’12, right, spearheads a project to construct a new school in Cambodia. At left is Argemira Florez ’13, who works closely on the project with Fuhrman and organized "restaurant week."
Approximately 1.5 million people died under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia during the 1970s in one of the world’s worst cases of genocide. Four years of executions, torture and disease eliminated nearly one-quarter of the population, causing a humanitarian crisis beyond imagination and leaving a society in physical and economic ruin.
More than three decades later, the events have borne a student initiative on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College. Jessica Fuhrman ’12, a government major at F&M, is leading a project to construct a new school in Cambodia—The Cambodia School Project. With support from the International Women’s Outreach Committee (IWOC) and The Human Rights Initiative (THRI), Fuhrman hopes the project will improve Cambodia’s education system, which was essentially eliminated during the Khmer Rouge regime.
“Cambodia is somewhat of a forgotten country,” Fuhrman says. “The genocide ended most forms of education. It’s a very, very poor nation. Rural parts of the country are almost 80 percent below the poverty line. It’s also the sex-trafficking hub of the world.”
The project ties together several interests for Fuhrman, who is passionate about human rights, international relations and education. She gained inspiration after reading Three Cups of Tea, a book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin about promoting peace through education. She also connected with Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Fuhrman sat beside Kristof at a dinner when the author visited F&M last year. “He’s probably my idol,” Fuhrman says. “I was star-struck. I read his column every Thursday and Sunday.”
After brainstorming ways to get the Cambodian project off the ground, Fuhrman presented her idea to the executive board of the IWOC. She also discussed the project with and received encouragement from Professor of French Lisa Gasbarrone, members of the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, Dean of the College Kent Trachte and Interim Presidnet John F. Burness ’67.
The Cambodia School Project aims to raise $25,000 this year. About half of that will be used to build the physical school, while the rest will be used to purchase supplies and hire a teacher. The F&M project partners with American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing opportunities for youth and people living in poverty in Cambodia. Founded in 1993 by journalist Bernie Krisher, the AAfC has helped to build more than 470 primary and lower secondary schools in Cambodia since 1999.
Earlier this month, The Cambodian School Project received support from the local community during “restaurant week,” when several eateries in Lancaster contributed a percentage of their sales to the AAfC. Argemira Florez ’13, a member of THRI, works closely with Fuhrman on the project and organized restaurant week.
Fuhrman sees potential for F&M students to contribute in other ways, as well. “I’m excited about the long-term aspects of our project,” she says. “We can make major contributions to the academic literature relating to Cambodia. During my research, I learned firsthand how few statistics there are. Students can contribute to academic journals or papers. Education can be a long-term stabilizing force in the Cambodian population. This is a win-win for everyone involved.”
For more information on the project or to support it, contact Fuhrman at firstname.lastname@example.org.