Nonstop to Cambodia: South Toledoan to do mission work in Southeast AsiaWritten by Morgan Delp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Markowitz’s most memorable experience from her mission trip to Cambodia last summer was when she washed the feet of the children she was caring for.
“It was like what Jesus did for his disciples,” Markowitz said. “It was a really profound and moving experience, very emotional, and it made the kids know our love for them.”
It also made Markowitz realize how much she loved the children as well.
The 22-year-old South Toledo native loved the kids and her experience in Cambodia so much that she will return to the Third World country at the end of July. Instead of a two-week visit like last year, she will stay for at least six months but most likely a year, Markowitz said.
“I fell in love with these children and became invested in them,” she said. “I could see myself living there and helping them.”
While attending Kent State University before transferring to the University of Toledo, Markowitz became involved at Western Reserve Grace Church in Macedonia, Ohio. The church sponsors two homes that house orphaned children at risk of economic and sexual exploitation through the organization Asia’s Hope.
Asia’s Hope has homes throughout Cambodia, India and Thailand. Each home is headed by a couple who raise the 20 to 25 orphaned children as their own. According to asiashope.org, the organization seeks to provide a personal, family-oriented experience for the children, who range in age from 5 to 18, instead of an impersonal, institutionalized one.
“I thought when I first started college I would like to be a missionary, but I didn’t really know what it meant,” Markowitz said. “I studied abroad in France for one semester and then I was in Cambodia that summer, which solidified my love for traveling and living abroad.”
Last summer, Markowitz’s trip involved helping to care for and interact with the children in Battambang, a city in Cambodia. This included leading the children in daily activities like arts and crafts, games and dances. This summer, Markowitz will help establish a new program which seeks to improve the education of the Cambodian children.
Asia’s Hope has paired up with Brightstart Learning to create after-school programs
to provide remedial education for children who have fallen behind in the public school they attend.
Gwen Higaki, executive program director for Bright Start Learning, said some 14- and 15-year-olds have fallen so far behind that they are only in the fourth and fifth grade. The program, which was established in January and is led by a Cambodian instructor, aids children two or more grades behind.
Markowitz, along with Devin Barnes from Aurora, Ohio, will act as program assistants for Bright Start Learning. Their duties will consist of helping to set up the infrastructure of the program, keeping records of every student, communicating with Higaki and others about the progress of the program and teaching English to children and staff at Asia’s Hope.
“[Jessica and Devin] were missions leaders I worked with and helped in coordinating their first mission trips. When we decided to form Brightstart, they wanted to be involved right away,” Higaki said. “After a little time, it became obvious where they were going to fit in.”
Higaki said that the organization hopes to partner with more colleges and churches to expand and offer vocational training and more supplemental, semiprivate instruction.
“The children are starving for learning,” Higaki said. “We started a remedial class and put some students in them and there were other kids hanging out at the door begging to get in and learn. So we expanded and let them in, because why not? … We are sure that these kids will change the country and the world [by being] stronger parents, teachers, leaders.”
On June 16, Markowitz will raise funds for her trip by hosting “Nonstop to Cambodia” at Plate 21, 3664 Rugby Drive, in South Toledo, where Markowitz works. The event, which lasts from 4 – 6:30 p.m., is open to the public, and will feature a live auction, live music, smoothies and snacks. Admission is $10 and includes a free smoothie, frappe, tea or espresso drink.
Markowitz has received donations from The Andersons, Elephant Bar and Biggby, along with instruments and artwork for the silent auction.
For more information on the fundraiser, contact Markowitz at email@example.com. To donate to Brightstart Learning, contact PO Box 560230, Macedonia, Ohio 44056.