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Local woman raising funds for a school in Cambodia
Donna Martin holds a picture of a Cambodian school in front of a computer screen that shows the location of the schools. Martin wants to raise $13,000 to pay for a school in the Southeast Asian country. Photo by Rod Stetzer

Donna Martin loves being retired after teaching full-time for 34 years in the Chippewa Falls School District.

But while enjoying the more relaxed pace of retirement, she kept asking herself: “What are you doing to make a difference?”

Last summer, while on a trip to the Boundary Waters area in Minnesota, Martin found out.

She read an article in O, The Oprah Magazine, about how to help girls around the world. The article said a Web site, Cambodiaschools.com, builds an entire school in Cambodia, a country of 14 million, for a donation of $13,000. After the Asian Development Bank matches the donation (up to $30,000), a site is selected from a waiting list and a school is built by American Assistance for Cambodia. The group, which has built over 300 schools in the country, says $10,000 of the donation is used to build the school, and the other $3,000 for a general school account. (The contributions are tax-deductible).

“I thought $13,000 was nothing,” she said.

So Donna Martin, who retired in 2003, is setting aside money she earns by substitute teaching to build a school in Cambodia. She figures that it will take three years to raise the money.

Several people suggested speeding the process by taking her idea to community groups to see if they would be willing to donate. “That’s exactly what I’m doing,” she said.

She said she’s willing to speak to groups about the school project, and has a 10-minute DVD to show about building a Cambodian school.

She talked with the Chippewa Falls Senior High School staff on Thursday, Oct. 15, asking that the school’s service clubs keep the Cambodian school idea in mind for a project.

Martin said each school built by the group behind the Web site has three to six classrooms. The teachers are state certified, and each school has solar panels that give off enough power to run a couple of computers.

Each school is built in brick, because a wooden structure would not stand up to Cambodia’s monsoon season from May to November.

Martin said some people may remember Cambodia for “The Killing Fields” days, when murderous dictator Pol Pot killed thousands. Cambodia today is a democracy, and has been since 1991. “It is stable,” Martin said.

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Many in the country live in villages of 100 to 400 people. Martin said 84 percent of the population lives in rural areas. “Half of the women can’t read or write,” she said.

So there are a lot of people in search of an education. “The classes are huge. The classes are 30 to 45 people in the class,” Martin said.

Martin said within 5-8 months of getting the money, the American Assistance for Cambodia will have the school built. “I could name the school. I could go visit it. And I could teach there,” Martin said.

The main thing, however, is to get the school built so students can begin learning.

“I’m hoping to do it in a year with contributions,” Martin said.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect first name for Donna Martin in one reference.

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