Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 17 December 2010 00:00
College students are somewhat notorious for being very opinionated, without always having the gumption to leave their dorm rooms to act on their convictions. 2008 Plainview-Old Bethpage High School graduate Jessica Fuhrman stands out among her peers as a young woman of action; dissatisfied with the lack of education available in Cambodia, especially for young women, she decided to partner with American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC) to do something about it. Now, she’s partway towards her goal of raising $25,000- the amount necessary to build a new school in Cambodia- before the end of the academic year.
Fuhrman, 20, a government major at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, says that the Cambodia School Project, which she now helms, stems from the fact that Cambodia doesn’t get anywhere near enough attention, in her eyes. “It was largely ignored, even though the atrocities there- I believe- were far greater than what they were in Vietnam,” she said, referring to the era of the Vietnam War. She also noted that helping to bring education to Cambodia dovetails with her strong interest in advancing women’s rights around the world; she currently serves as vice president of The International Women’s Outreach Committee (IWOC) on her campus, and is also very active in the campus women’s center.
“It’s a co-educational school that we’re trying to build, but I believe that there is a bigger positive effect on the female students, because they are at such a high risk of being sold into the sex trafficking industry…I believe Cambodia has the highest ratio of sex trafficking per population in the world,” noted Fuhrman. Part of the money raised as part of the project will go to Girls Be Ambitious, an AAfC program that encourages girls to go to school to keep them out of the sex trafficking industry.
However, the potential advantages of the program aren’t limited to just giving children more opportunities, though that remains a worthy goal in and of itself; Fuhrman explained that providing education to young Cambodians is a smart thing to do from a security perspective as well. The country has a very young population, and about 80 percent of the rural population live below the poverty line; two factors that, taken together, can often lead to dissent and radicalism. Providing access to education helps to de-radicalize the population, said Fuhrman, and makes it less likely that factions in Cambodia will become threats to the international community.
While most of the funds are expected to come via personal donors, Fuhrman and her supporters have been doing fundraising and awareness campaigns near her college in Pennsylvania. In November, the Cambodia School Project was the beneficiary of a Restaurant Week in Lancaster, Penn., with the help of IWOC and The Human Rights Intiative (THRI). Restaurants signed on to donate 15-25 percent of all their sales towards Cambodia project, and ultimately donated $600. They also held a second fundraiser on Dec. 2, when local Asian food restaurants serving Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisines donated food for a fundraising dinner on campus.
In order to reach her goal of raising $25,000 dollars before the end of the academic year (May 2011), fundraising plans for next semester include a larger fundraising dinner and a T-shirt campaign, where Fuhrman hopes to sell 1,000 T-shirts, primarily to students on the Franklin & Marshall campus. Naturally, once everyone is wearing the shirts, anybody in town who didn’t know about the project will be quickly informed.
Others outside the campus are also taking notice of Fuhrman’s initiative; the college junior has already been filmed as part of an upcoming documentary about AAfC. There is also talk of the Cambodia School Project being taken as a model for other schools.
While her current project takes up much of her time, Fuhrman is also involved with Invisible Children, an organization that helps rehabilitate child soldiers from Uganda. Looking towards the future, the student says she might like to work for the Department of Democracy and Global Affairs at the State Department, since that department deals with women’s issues and human trafficking. She might also consider a career in journalism, covering the same topics. Clearly, she’s off to an impressive start.
Fuhrman says that she would like to have the opportunity to get people in her hometown of Plainview involved in the project, however, it’s not easy for her to organize events back home when she has so much to do at school during the academic year. Instead, expect to hear about fundraising for the Cambodia School Project right here in the neighborhood this summer.
Because of course, even after the school is built, the work won’t yet be done- students will need to go to Cambodia for study abroad, and hopefully conduct original research to fill the gap of academic research produced about Cambodia, Fuhrman says. And of course, why stop at just one school?