This Aussie retiree has founded a school in Cambodia

3 min read

Volunteering can be addictive. Just ask Sue Morgan. In 2012, she quit her job as a school principal and left for Cambodia, to work with the poorest of the poor. Four years later, she’s running her own not-for-profit.  

Siem Reap – the gateway to the legendary Angkor Wat temples – was the first stop on Sue’s journey. There, she worked in schools and orphanages. “I accompanied a friend to a remote jungle village and was moved by the dignity in the midst of extreme poverty,” she says. “I resolved to try and make a difference.”

Upon returning to their home in Newcastle, NSW, Sue and her husband, Brian, put their heads together to work out what more they could do. Education looked like the answer. “We set about paying two teachers a wage of $50 per month each, at schools in the remote, impoverished villages of Un Long Thom and Kla Kamum,” she explains. Located three hours’ drive from Siem Reap in the Kulen Mountains, these are cashless communities, where subsistent farmers live hand-to-mouth, according to what they can grow and catch.

“This necessitated active fundraising and organising ourselves into a not-for-profit incorporated association,” Sue says. In April 2013, SIMs was formed. The name is an acronym for “Schools, Immersion, Mission”, representing the organisation’s values. 

Student numbers quickly increased and, by 2014, two teachers had become four. Sue would travel to Cambodia once a month, delivering “food, clothing, mosquito nets, blankets and thongs.”

Back in Australia, fundraising became the focus. Lowes chipped in with free school uniforms and the East Maitland Rotary Club also gave generously. In addition, several private sponsors committed to monthly donations.

 “As numbers continued to grow, the Cambodia Government stepped in and began to pay the teachers,” Sue says. “This took the pressure off our financial efforts and allowed us to establish a play-based pre-school in Un Long Thom.”

SIMs provides the pre-school with resources and a teacher but, right now, it’s just a veranda. Sue’s mission for 2016 is to raise enough money to build a room. This involves speaking to schools and organisations in Australia, as well as selling bowls and scarves at local markets in Newcastle.

In between funding education, SIMs helps out in other ways. “We’ve supported a Khmer lady into retraining as a hair dresser and we pay school fees for a boy learning English and studying Khmer. There’s also a medical centre at Bovel [another village], which had no way of connecting to the electricity supply, so Brian donated the money his staff had collected for him as a retirement gift. They were very generous.”

The biggest challenge is, unsurprisingly, the need to avoid spreading SIMs budget too thinly. Sue says, “There are so many communities in need, so many schools that need resources, and medical centres that need supplies. We have made a conscious effort to go deeper, rather than try to be generous in too many communities and make no difference at all. It is very hard to say no,” Sue says.

In the meantime, the difference SIMs’ has made to hundreds of children goes to show how much one person can achieve.

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