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Dinner held for Cambodian school

Rohan Anand | Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Nearly 100 students skipped the dining hall Tuesday. Instead of dinner, they attended a Thai-Cambodian fundraising dinner for Cambodian schoolchildren and a school they hope will be built.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the evening – which was the Student International Business Council’s second fundraising dinner this winter – went toward the Protect the Environment, Protect Yourself (PEPY Ride) organization. The group organizes volunteer adventure travel to developing countries, including a bike ride across Cambodia – and has its own chapter at Notre Dame.

PEPYND – a student chapter within the SIBC – assists in fundraising, research and business planning for PEPY Ride.

PEPYND put itself on the map in December by hosting its first fundraising dinner in an effort to collect $20,000 to build a second school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Last night’s dinner represented the group’s attempt to raise the last $1,000 needed to fund the school.

“I truly believe that people have taken an interest in our initiatives,” said junior PEPYND member Allison Fleece. “And we’ve made it pretty clear that they are supporting a good cause by attending this dinner.”

Attracting an overwhelming number of student supporters, part of the organizer’s intent was to help the community become aware of the situation in Cambodia.

“Our overall goal is to increase the quality and breadth of education in an underdeveloped country like Cambodia, where 75 percent of the children do not even complete the seventh grade,” said Tim Rann, PEPYND president.

When the doors opened at 6 p.m., the line wrapped around the TV lounge outside the Sorin Room, and continued to augment for the next 45 minutes.

Luckily for PEPYND members, the turnout was more than expected.

“This has been an incredible turnout,” said senior Christian Kondratowicz. “We were already running out of food within the first half hour.”

While the long wait for a Thai/Cambodian meal may not have seemed appealing for students, there were other incentives to attend the dinner as well. There was an abundance of information about PEPYND-organized trips to Cambodia.

“I knew there would be pamphlets containing information about volunteering one’s Spring Break or Winter Break in Cambodia,” said sophomore Brian Hamamoto. “So I decided to put my name on the list they had for interested students.”

This Spring Break, Rann will be accompanied by nine other PEPYND members to oversee the building of this school in Phnom Penh. Rann says that during the trip, the team will be filming a documentary so that the Notre Dame patrons can “see their money put in action.”

“We’re encouraging students interested in joining PEPYND or who wish to travel in the future to explore our Web site – www.nd.edu/~trann – for more information,” he said.

PEPYND is covering new ground to stimulate economic redevelopment in Cambodia in addition to vocational purposes by working on the Independent Travelers Database project, which encourages tourists visiting Cambodia to stay in hotels or eat in restaurants run by Cambodian families.

“Travelers often stay or eat in chains owned by foreign corporations, so it doesn’t directly benefit the Cambodian economy,” said Rann. “However, through this project, which will become available soon on a Web site, we will provide information to travelers about Cambodians who might have invested their life savings into operating a hotel or restaurant, and so they can take advantage of those venues.”

The Street Friends Caf̩ in Phnom Pehn Рwhich is run completely by street children in Cambodia Рis another project supported by PEPYND. Working in the caf̩ or the beauty salon next door, the children serve as waiters, cooks, and stylists, and in return are provided with housing, education, and spending money.

“It’s a great project to help children with no other sources of income,” said Rann, “and we’re pointing these travelers toward a good social objective.”

Next year, with Rann graduating and moving to Cambodia, Fleece hopes to take charge of PEPYND and to bring new ideas to the group.

“Perhaps next year, back on campus, we’ll start hosting more formal dinners with more guest speakers,” she said. “We also may market longer trips over summer or winter break, since it seems that Fall or Spring breaks are too short to cram in a service trip. But our prime initiative is keep catering to the children’s education, because right now it is simply too unstable to ignore.”