Student Spotlight: Caring for Cambodia

Senior Savannah French is travelling to Cambodia next year on a five month-long mission trip to help orphans with AIDS.


Photo Courtesy of Joseph Grosjean

Senior Savannah French will be on mission trip for 5 months, something fewer are doing out of high school.

Danielle Moran, Columnist

The members of Horizon Honors’ graduating class are ready to leave high school for good and begin college, but one Eagle has something else in store. Savannah French, class of 2015, will spend the upcoming year as a member of YWAM (Youth With A Mission), working with orphans with AIDS in Battambang, Cambodia. French leaves Wednesday Jan. 6, 2016, and will remain in Cambodia for the following five months, returning in the summer.

YWAM is a Christian-run organization that has programs in 1,100 locations in over 180 countries. The mission in Battambang, French describes, is basically a five-month training program. The first two to two and a half months are the “school part” of the training; you’re in a classroom, or out in the country at times, learning how to apply the contents of the Bible to what’s happening in that area and gaining more knowledge so you can spread awareness to others. The last two to two and a half months are the “field work” part of the training, the frontier missions outreach where you get the real hands-on experiences.

In Cambodia, sex trade is a major issue. Children, commonly between the ages of four and fifteen, are sold into sex slavery, sometimes even by their own parents as an attempt to get out of debt. As a result, sexually-transmitted diseases, particularly AIDS, spread rapidly. There is an orphanage that houses victims of sex slavery, many of whom are infected with AIDS.

While French would love to work on the medical side of things, one YWAM’s primary focuses is is working in the orphanage and restoring the community that way. French says, “It’s a lot of playing with the kids and building them up, making them stronger people, showing the culture that they’re humans too and that just because they’re girls, or just because they’re young kids, doesn’t mean they’re not worth anything.”

Part of her inspiration to join the mission came from her own family life. French’s mom often belittled her as a child. Leaving her past behind her, French now emphasizes a bubbly personality with the mentality that no one should ever feel the way she did. “I could never imagine putting someone down or making them feel useless or worthless because I’ve been there, I know what it’s like, and so to know that people are currently living like that, living down, living like there’s no way out, upset because no one loves them, it breaks my heart.” She continues, “I’m not saying the way I grew up was different than anyone else, everyone goes through their trials and tribulations. But I think it’s helped me realize who I am, what I want to do, and how I want to help the world become a better place.”

French also finds inspiration in her faith in Christianity, past mission trips she’s done in Mexico, and heart-breaking statistics like the 46 percent poverty rate in Cambodia and one in eight Cambodian children dying between birth and age five, according to Department of Planning and Health Information, Ministry of Health.

Despite her excitement, some aspects of the trip do make her nervous such as the frying pan-sized spiders, 400 pound underwater-swimming snakes, and 95% humidity in 85-degree weather. In addition, this will be the farthest she’s ever travelled, alone or with family. Not to mention she will have to be able to speak and understand the Cambodian language, Khmer, which is quite difficult to do when virtually no program or place in your city offers a course in that language. She lightly touches on the potential problems being an American female could cause, but she ensures that she will be in a safe area and won’t have any problems.

The biggest struggle French faces by going on this trip is having to temporarily leave the lives of her loved ones and vice versa. She admits, “I almost backed out; I had a mini breakdown and everything… it hit me that people’s lives are gonna continue. All my friends and family are gonna be going through exciting things and different changes while I’m gone just like I am… I’m gonna miss hearing about all the different exciting things happening in people’s lives and just being able to be a part of it all.”

With this in consideration, French believes every person should take a break after high school to experience something new. “If you can get your mind to a new place and teach it to adapt to another culture, I think you’re already more advanced than any person whose been in college for any amount of time.”

The thing she’s most excited for is simply being in another country and being able to have that experience in a new society and culture. She’s also really looking forward to working with the people and building relationships with them. “I think the main thing I want to do is I just want to affect at least one person. If I could change just one person’s life, that would make the entire trip for me.”

When French returns in the summer of 2016, she plans on going to college and getting the education to become a human rights attorney.