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Riordan Service Award Recipient Starts English-Language School in Cambodia

Bridge of LifeWhen Eddie Roohan ’10 went on a two-week Alternative Breaks trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2009, he thought he would just teach English to students and return home. Little did he know that the experience would lead him to start a school that offers free English classes.

“Ultimately, you get more back than you give when you volunteer. We were only there for a couple of days, but the impact it had on me will stay with me the rest of my life,” said Roohan, a Spanish and theology double major. 

Roohan developed a friendship with Sok Pren, a local hotel employee, who wanted to start a school in his nearby hometown, Banteay Srei.  Roohan said at first he was hesitant about starting a nonprofit overseas but that he changed his mind after hearing Pren’s determination to help others.

“I didn’t have the experience to start a school, but I believed in Sok and his commitment to the project. He’s a hard worker and I wanted to support him and the community. It definitely involved a lot of trust,” Roohan said.

The school, named Bridge of Life, has been running for more than a year and offers two one-hour classes every day. There are more than 60 students who are provided with free classes, books and supplies as long as they students regularly attend. 

“Tourism is the biggest source of business in Cambodia so being able to speak English is more important than earning a college degree,” Roohan said. “We hope the students will be able to acquire the language and take advantage of the large job market in Siem Reap, as well as improving their quality of living.”

Bridge of Life costs about $300 a month to operate and relies heavily on donations. Roohan and Sok hope to create several programs that will help the school to become self-sustainable.  They started a sewing program hoping to sell garments at the local market. Also, they built a chicken farm housing 50 chickens; they plan to sell the eggs and give them to the families of the students. Future plans include purchasing a plot of land next to the school to build a catfish farm and an organic farm to grow vegetables.

“We want the community to feel like it’s their school and that they’re running it. We want it to be more about them and less about us. It should be the town’s school,” Roohan said.

During his senior year at Loyola Marymount University, Roohan volunteered more than 275 hours for Bridge of Life school. In recognition of his efforts, Roohan received a Riordan Community Service Award in April. Each year, the Riordan Foundation honors six LMU undergraduate students for outstanding contributions in community service. 

“I was flattered and honored to receive the award. It meant a lot to me to be recognized.  It also makes me want to work harder and continue to do more service work,” Roohan said.

For more information about the school or to make a donation, please click here.

Photo: Eddie Roohan stands with the students in front of the Bridge of Life School.

Posted July 26, 2010