Tei Park

TASSEL Teacher Tei after class at the Samrang school in Cambodia, Summer.

TASSEL Teacher Tei after class at the Samrang school in Cambodia, Summer.

South Pasadena high school (sphs), south pasadena, ca

Recording my journey with TASSEL is both deeply humbling and a bit unsettling. I assume it’s often that way when confronting something that you wouldn’t be the same person without today, if I’m trying to be necessarily dramatic. Three years ago was the me that was numbed by competing tragedies in the media and desperately preoccupied with “finding myself” in time for the first semester of senior year. I had failed to see the reality in anyone else’s life story, the insignificance of my own, and the full fact that serving others has no entry-level time or skill.

In the beginning of my 10th grade, a friend from another school asked if I would be willing to start a TASSEL chapter at my school. I told her no because I was scared of speaking in front of people, felt guilty, and said yes. I’d never heard of TASSEL and TASSEL was still brand new- there was no website then, only an email containing a scanned copy of the IRS approval I would have to show my school administrators.

But then I met the Joji who sent me that email and read about the Khmer Rouge genocide that didn't need any more proof of having happened. If there was something I could do to help people affected by this, no one should have to ask me! I was just late to the game and figured it was better to join late than never.

So I went through the motions of bringing TASSEL to South Pas, stumbled through public school bureaucracy a few times, stuttered through club lunch meetings more times (every “TASSEL Tuesday” precisely), freaked out most of the time and increased my Gmail/Drive account activity about a hundredfold.

The South Pasadena community TASSEL presentation, Feb. 2017.

The South Pasadena community TASSEL presentation, Feb. 2017.

We picked up 11 VSee classes in Rattinak that first year and found ourselves absolutely stunned. Our students were so eager and so smart. The local teachers defied our senses of reason and generosity. They deserved none of the horrors and all the opportunities that life had handed out with one eye open. And we could help change their lives by essentially happening to know English??

The more we knew, the more we were moved to do more. We studied to improve our teaching, built platforms to communicate the cause, sold our belongings and various skills to buy them class materials, and begged our parents to let us visit the villages in person. As we recruited more members, we started correcting essays, made classes for teachers, met the families of our students and fundraised for food and medicine. Ignorance would no longer be a cover for our responsibility to do what we could.

One could realize fairly quickly in the midst of all this that there is and always will be more to do. Admittedly, this has trapped me in moments of intense pessimism. Who am I to be trying anything with what little power that I have? What makes me think I can even make a difference?

This is when Teacher Nanh rubs my shoulder and asks me if I had enough food for breakfast. TASSEL is a family I now belong to, and because of this, I am fortunate enough to get to watch it grow every day. There is no time to be hopeless, we all must keep growing. I am forever looking forward to see where we go.