The Magazine of Meadowridge School

An Alumni's Unexpected Journey

After graduating from Simon Fraser University, Jayten Patel ’10 was faced with a tough decision. He had saved up a bit of money while earning his degree, and was now contemplating how to spend it. His decision was divided: buy a car or travel. He chose travel.

This one decision, paired with a series of fortunate—and one, not-so fortunate—events, brought Jayten to a small, one-building school in one of the poorest suburbs of Siem Reap, Cambodia. This one decision, and the events which brought him to it, would forever change his life.

So, where did life take you after graduating from Meadowridge School?

I went to Simon Fraser University, and did my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology. I knew what I wanted right away; I have always been an athlete—I even won Athlete of the Year in GVISAA (Greater Vancouver Independent Schools Athletics Association)—and I knew health and fitness was the direction I wanted to go. I loved it there; it was an amazing school, and I made a lot of great connections.

I graduated in 2015, and I decided to take a year off before my Masters to travel. It’s funny: I actually had money saved up from working and I was going to buy a car… my family and friends were the ones who said “why not travel?”

So you did. Where did you head off to first?

My very first trip was to Europe. I started off through Contiki Tours, which was a great way to sample Europe in 60 days. Then I started backpacking by myself. I booked my trip to South East Asia because I wanted the whole back-pack, roughing-it way of travel. That’s what you get from South East Asia. It’s also great for students because it’s so cheap.

I used Couchsurfing, which is basically this site that lets people stay at locals’ places for free or for cheap. I saw this guy—his name was Sokhom—whose profile said he just started this school, and he’d let you stay at his place if you came and taught English there. So I messaged him.

This all sounds so out-of-the-blue! What happened next?

Yes; I had no intention of going to a school or teaching when I started, but I did it. I got there, and—it’s such a small city—and it was after a ten-hour bus ride and I arrived at midnight. I didn’t even have a SIM card for my phone, so I couldn’t make calls. The bus dropped us off at this dodgy location: there were no city lights and tons of stray dogs. I had all my bags, and it was pitch dark, and I thought… this is kind of dodgy.

And then Sokhom arrived on his bike.

When I met him, we had an instant connection. He brought me dinner that his wife cooked, and he had everything figured out for me. Right away, he just started talking about this school. He had such a great energy.

After all this talk of the school, you must have been excited to get there. When did you finally get to see it?

I went to the school the next morning. There are 500 people living in the village; it is very, very tiny. It’s the school where all the local kids go, who wouldn’t otherwise have access to an education. There are public and private schools available, but the problem is most kids’ families are so poor that the kids get put to work, which puts the kids into a cycle of poverty. Sokhom actually goes door-to-door sharing with families the importance of school.

The school is called Angkor Tree School. It’s a small school, built entirely by Sokhom. He opened it four years ago.

 

Jayten teaching english at the school

Jayten teaching english at the Angkor Tree School

 

What was it like? Was it anything you expected?

The kids there are amazing. They come up to you, always smiling, and they’re so respectful. There were about 80 students then, and they all came from the village. After class they would come and ask you questions, and you could see the passion that they had for learning; they loved it. It was inspiring to see.

Sokhom keeps this school going no matter what, despite all the circumstances. That’s his purpose in life. He hardly gets sleep some nights. He’s never tired, and he’s always helping people. He actually works on the weekends so he can pay to not only support his family, but to support the school too. He and his wife have hosted up to ten kids in their own home at times.

That’s incredible. How long did you end up staying at the school?

I only spent about a week there, but in that short time I definitely felt a lot of love and energy. I didn’t want to go, but I was backpacking and had to continue on.

Where was next on the itinerary?

I was travelling up through Vietnam, moving up along the coast. Then… I got in an accident. It was a trip-ending accident, and I had to come home. When I was home, that’s when the inspiration came; some magical things happened.

Do tell.

I was doing physio, and I was doing a lot better. The magic happened when they wouldn’t let me refund my ticket from my insurance coverage. Well, I figured I might as well use the flight; and, if there was anywhere I wanted to go back to, it was the school. I wanted to make a documentary film.

The accident was actually really life-changing.

Tell me more about the documentary film. Do you even have a background in film?

I love film and photography, and I love editing and film. I have no formal training. When I was there—again, this is just the magic of it—there was a volunteer there who had his Bachelor of Film. I shot the film with him over five days. It was crazy, and I didn’t even know if we got all the footage we needed.

The kids there are amazing. They come up to you, always smiling, and they’re so respectful. There were about 80 students then, and they all came from the village. After class they would come and ask you questions, and you could see the passion that they had for learning; they loved it. It was inspiring to see.

I ended up releasing the film on Facebook, and a few of my friends helped me edit it. Everyone told me how much they liked it, and that it was a cool film, but they said I should make it more for social media… so, we took it from a 20-minute video to a three-minute video. It became viral; people were sharing it left to right. It got 10,000 views on the first day.

What was the basic premise of the new, three-minute video?

It was a video about love, actually. It’s not just about the school, it’s about inspiring people to change. It’s about love and energy, which is actually what I felt when I was in Cambodia.

 

Jayten posing with the founder of the Angkor Tree School

Left: Jayten and Sokhom, founder of the Angkor Tree School

Did the video meet its goal to inspire change?

The video was great. It was to raise awareness. Sokhom and Mark—Mark’s a benefactor of the school; he started as a volunteer and is now guiding the advancement of the school through his business expertise—they actually used the film to attract volunteers. People wanted to help; they wanted to donate. With all this support, we had to figure out how to use it.

What did you decide?

Mark thought, why not build a new school?

At the time, the school payed rent, and it wasn’t very sanitary. We were getting more and more kids who wanted to study, and we needed to expand the school. Mark did a lot of work from there: he got the land, he did all the paperwork, and managed the logistics. He started looking into doing fundraisers, and that’s where my idea to fundraise started.

I had these paintings from when I travelled. They are these beautiful, oil-based paintings that you can get there [in Cambodia] for so cheap. I actually bought the paintings to make-up for my travelling expenses, and my mom was the one who suggested I host a gala and sell the paintings to raise money for the school.

So you hosted a gala.

We did. My mom and I planned it all, and my friends and family rallied onward to help make it happen.

We had it in September [of 2016]. There were 300 people at the gala, and we raised $28,000 that night. All the paintings sold, and one of them sold for $2,500! The story literally brought people to tears.

We had a live conference call with the kids and Sokhom. I actually had a phone with me later, too, and people could talk to him one-one-one over Skype.

It was really cool. People could see exactly where the money was going.

 

At the time, the school payed rent, and it wasn’t very sanitary. We were getting more and more kids who wanted to study, and we needed to expand the school. Mark did a lot of work from there: he got the land, he did all the paperwork, and managed the logistics. He started looking into doing fundraisers, and that’s where my idea to fundraise started.

 

Tell us about the new school: what’s it like?

The new school has four different classrooms, a library, washrooms, a kitchen, sanitary equipment, a bike shelter, and a massive gate. They just finished everything, but the official inauguration is in February. The new school can fit 160 students, and right now they’re at 120; they have a waiting list now. They built everything themselves.

They don’t have drinking water, so we just built a new drinking well. Everything is done now: the electricity, the plumbing, the shelter… they even have a courtyard outside. The school has this very beautiful bright-blue roof. It’s three times the size of the old school. The land is five times the size.

Will you be going back to visit the new school?

I’m pretty much locked down for two years for my Masters. I will go back though, eventually. The school is already growing so fast and getting so big.

You’ve also now linked up with Meadowridge, and have been working closely with a few people in our community. What sparked that idea?

I’ll never lose contact with Meadowridge. It’s linking up two schools, and it’s a cool story. I want students to realize the world is your oyster, and that you can do whatever you want. The reason why Sokhom named the school after a tree is because he planted the seed, and all our supporters and volunteers water that seed. The children are the tree.

#LiveLifeThroughLove Documentary

 


 

We caught up with Jayten near the end of the summer to hear about the new school’s inauguration, as well as how his first year of his Masters program went. Here’s what he had to say.

Hello again! How are things? How is everything going with the new school?

Hello! Yes, the school opened up in February and everything has been pretty smooth… there’s actually a second school now, called the Anghor Tree Project! That school opened up just a month ago.

The school is doing really well, and they’re getting a lot more fundraising from the United States and Belgium. As for now, it’s all about self-sustainability since expenses have gone up. They’ve hired two, full-time teachers. The kids are now being taught Monday through Friday, whereas before it was on a volunteer-basis when volunteers were available.

How was the inauguration? What did your parents have to say about it?

They actually got to cut the ribbon at the inauguration. For them—they were so proud—and they could feel the love, too. Sokum took care of them so much, and he and my mom still chat. My mom is even close with his wife now. My parents loved their experience, and they feel so blessed to have seen it.

And how about you? How was your first year of school?

School is going really well—the first year went by really quickly.

I’m actually working on another project, too. I’m working on a video to promote exercise and activity in the general population. We’re actually filming it right now: we’ve got kayaking, rock-climbing… we’re just getting lots of footage together right now. We’re going to chip away at it slowly. I made the video for the school, and now I want to make a video to contribute to my professional field.

Anything else going on in your life that you’re excited about?

I’m actually really into fishing right now! I just had a trip to Kitimat, and we went salmon fishing.

 

 




You May also like...

No post to display.