Nonprofit founded by Jewish family changes lives in Cambodia

Five young Cambodians assisted by the nonprofit recently spent time in Australia, including attending a Shabbat dinner.

By Georgia L. Gilholy, JNS

If an Australian Jewish high school student hadn’t missed a deadline in 2009, her family might not have gone on to found a nonprofit, which is helping young people some 4,300 miles away in Cambodia.

After Stephanie Palti filed her paperwork too late, the then-14-year-old’s high school principal told her she had missed out on a volunteer project building houses in rural Cambodia. Her parents decided to make it a family mission. Six months later, Stephanie, her parents Aviv and Michelle, her sister Jessica and two others set out for the Southeast Asian country’s second-largest city to volunteer for two weeks in a rural school and orphanage.

“Two weeks that changed our lives,” according to the website of Cambodia Rural Students Trust, which, after subsequent volunteer trips, the family founded in 2011.

In 2023, the nonprofit is covering tuition, health and dental insurance, and other expenses for 104 Cambodian students. It also operates “social enterprise” projects, including a tree-planting mission, university scholarships and a bicycle-donation project to help students commute to school.

Late last month, the nonprofit brought five of the Cambodian students to Australia. They shared their stories with supporters of the nonprofit—including David Southwick, a member of the Victoria Parliament, and his wife, Hayley—at Melbourne’s West Brighton Club.

Read  Israelis advised to conceal Jewish identity abroad in new travel warning

Lita Seng, one of the five students, told JNS that the nonprofit empowers students by giving them a quality education and the chance to contribute to their community.

“I strongly believe that education is the only key to achieving life’s goals,” she told JNS.

The five visiting Cambodian students experience a Shabbat dinner at the home of the Palti family.

Seng found the Friday-night dinner “a lot more meaningful than imagined,” and she particularly appreciated the peaceful and restful atmosphere, she told JNS.