Vail Valley students to help Cambodian orphans |

Vail Valley students to help Cambodian orphans

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyLisa-Marie Howell, center, works at an orphanage in Cambodia last summer. Howell is heading back to Cambodia this spring with five students and a teacher from Stone Creek Charter School in Avon to teach English and other important skills.

AVON, Colorado – Twelve-year-old Jack Skidmore believes he and four of his classmates will be doing their part to make the world a better place for at least 75 orphans this spring.

The students are heading to Cambodia with Stone Creek Charter School teacher Jen Gutmann and Lisa-Marie Howell, a local woman whose new nonprofit, the Children’s Global Alliance, is making the trip possible.

Howell started the Children’s Global Alliance last year in an effort to empower local children by “allowing them to make a hands-on difference in the lives of children in the world’s most impoverished countries,” Howell wrote in her blog.

Howell returned from a trip to Cambodia last summer and knew her work there wasn’t finished. She worked with an organization called Global Crossroads and saw many orphanages in the Phnom Penh area in need of resources and extra care. She chose the Cambodia Hope Association Orphanage as the one she’d return to this year.

Through some fundraising and a lot of hard work, Howell expects to help change some of the lives of the 75 children at the orphanage, as well as the lives of the five Stone Creek Charter School students who are coming along.

“I am not satisfied with just being a bystander in life, and never will be,” Howell wrote in her blog’s “about me” section.

And neither are the students who made the cut to go on the trip. Jack Skidmore, 12, Kassie Heiner, 12, Anna Trombetta, 13, Tabor Whitney, 13, and Nina Ferzacca, 13, are students who are emotionally mature enough for the culture shock they will surely experience in Cambodia.

Gutmann and Howell didn’t choose the students at random, nor did they accept every student who showed interest in going on the trip.

“The students had to submit an essay to be considered,” Howell said.

Gutmann and Howell ended up interviewing about 15 students. They wanted to be very careful in choosing the right kids for the trip – kids who could handle the experience and enrich the lives of the orphans by teaching them English and other important skills.

After the interviews, Gutmann and Howell decided to write down the names of the students they thought should go on the trip. They ended up writing down the same five names.

“These five students stood out,” Gutmann said.

While some of these five middle school students have traveled to places like Australia, South Korea and Hawaii, they are all trying to prepare themselves for a world they’re sure they’ve never seen before.

Howell said she’s doing her best to “paint a very clear picture of what we’re walking into,” but she knows there will still be shocking moments for the students once they’re in Cambodia.

“I think it’s going to be a very interesting learning experience for everyone,” Howell said.

The experience is why the students are going. Anna thinks it’s going to change her life.

“I’ve been given so much my whole life that I’ve never really seen that before, and I want to experience it and see what it’s like,” Anna said.

For Jack, the canned food drives and clothing drives he’s participated in locally are just barely scraping the surface of the help he’s about to give in Cambodia. He said he’s never truly gotten the chance to help someone – really help someone – and this is that chance.

“I just want to go there and help them out,” Jack said. “It’s just really touching.”

The students realize they are only there for two weeks, but that’s all the more reason they’re putting everything they’ve got into this trip.

Howell said each student had to commit to raising $1,000 for the trip. Regardless of whether their parents could pay for the trip outright, Howell said the students are being put to work.

“I want them to really earn it – if you earn something you appreciate it 10 times more,” Howell said.

The students are going to be working hard at their largest fundraiser for the event, which happens Feb. 1 at ZaccaZa in Avon. There will be a silent auction, a raffle and food and drinks.

In addition to earning their way to Cambodia, the students are spending time learning anything they can about this far-away country.

Jack has been reading books about Cambodia that he got for Christmas and has learned important lessons about customs, such as respectful practices like taking your shoes off when you enter a temple or someone’s home.

“The bottoms of your feet are known as the dirtiest part of the body – to show that to somebody is really disrespectful,” Jack said.

The hardest part about the trip is going to be the time away from family members, according to the five students – and that’s part of the reason Gutmann and Howell chose them.

“You could feel the love they have for their family,” Howell said. “That’s a testament to their maturity.”

While the students will have to get used to being extremely hot – they’ll be in Cambodia in April when temperatures and humidity are the highest of the year – and they’ll have to get used to eating simple foods like rice, they’re still going to bring some comforts from home to help get them through these two weeks.

Howell told them to bring snacks like Power Bars just in case the food isn’t so hot.

Tabor wants to bring a soccer ball and teach the children how to play, and Jack plans on bringing along a backgammon board that he wants to leave at the orphanage.

They know they’ll see conditions that will be hard to accept – it’s a good thing they’re bringing plenty of sunglasses to hide their tears.

Kassie said it will be sad to see what these Cambodian orphans are missing out on in life, but Howell suspects that it will be the American kids who realize they too have been missing out on important lessons in life – that material things aren’t everything, for example.

“I see the girls and guys around here and they don’t really (appreciate) what they have, and I want to change me as a person to not be like that,” Nina said.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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