Forty-two Rotarians and Friends recently participated in our Club’s “Sweat Equity” project in Cambodia.  Two separate groups of 21 returned to Siem Reap in November to continue with the construction of Bakong Technical College.  We started this project with local partners two years ago in a green field about a half hour by tuk-tuk from Siem Reap, a popular destination because of its proximity to the World Heritage site of Angkor Wat and nearby temples.


Both teams included club members and spouses.  On the first team were Bill Bressmer and his partner, Carol Pierce along with former member Nina Cole and Christine Saunders and her husband, Matthew Connors.  Chris and Pat Snyder (team leaders), Susan and Hedley Hunter, Paul Truelove and Joyce and Brian Westlake were on the second team.  Rotarians and friends from 7 Rotary clubs rounded out the teams with an amazing set of skills and financial support to help make this dream a reality.

Bakong Technical College is the vision of Cambodian American Ronnie Yimsut, a truly remarkable survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s.  This genocide killed 1.7 million Cambodians including his parents and seven of his siblings.  This reduced Cambodia to one of the poorest countries in the world.  Ronnie will be our keynote speaker June 8th, 2012.

Ronnie returns annually to his native country to help in the rebuilding process.  A landscape architect by profession, he has designed this ambitious project and has donated the land to make it possible.   Rotarians have provided most of the funding for BTC, which will provide classrooms and facilities for about 300 post high school students when it is completed in 2013.  This college is the first of its type in Cambodia and will provide practical training for skills that will lead to employment and help to raise the standard of living of the Khmer people.   The training will be for the tourism industry.  Many of the students will be landmine survivors.

For those of us who were returning after two years, we became true believers when we saw the progress that has been made.  There was not a dry eye among us when we were greeted by lines of students from a nearby school, who will eventually be among the first students at BTC, when it is complete.  Attentive readers of the Voice will remember the piles of concrete blocks that our crew made two years ago.  These blocks have now been transformed into a wall surrounding the property that serves also to record the names of Rotarian participants.  Our able paint crew transformed vast sections of the wall into a thing of beauty.

The first building is a multipurpose pavilion and kitchen, now complete, constructed in the traditional Khmer style.  The second building, a library and administrative complex, rose from a mere outline to a substantial building while our work crews were there.  Lest you have concerns about the quality of the construction by Canadian Rotarians, you will be relieved to know that the really skilled work is done by highly competent Cambodian men and women, who are amazing workers.  If we told you that a skilled bricklayer would make about $4 per day and other workers $1 to $2 a day, you can see why our financial contribution goes so far.  In total, $90,000 from our trip will be contributed to the building and other projects including ongoing support for an orphanage.

As part of our Centennial celebration, our Club has chosen BTC to be the recipient of one of our $100,000 awards.  This marvelous contribution will fund the construction of the classrooms.  It is anticipated the school will open in 2013.   For all participants in this year’s work, it was a life changing experience to work with such appreciative Cambodians, whose engaging smiles and warmth have left an indelible impression on all of us.  Side trips to the Landmine Museum and orphanage and several schools gave us a chance to engage directly with the students and help out with some English teaching.  We gave out school supplies, dental kits to the children and rice to flood victims and very poor old people.  We also had the happy experience of paying for and handing out bicycles which provide needed transportation to children who often travel long distances to go to school.

If you plan to go the Rotary International conference in Bangkok, consider a side trip to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and, of course, Bakong Technical College in the making.  Our next trip is to Malawi in May.  Let us know if you are interested.  These trips are special.  You can contact Chris Snyder at 416-364-0181 Ext. 2501 or visit our website at


Let us know if you are interested.