Neil Slighton graduated from Hong Kong International School just a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t until after he received his diploma and hung up his cap and gown that he got to meet his final personal goal for his senior year.
Along with 10 of his fellow HKIS alumni and two current students, Neil traveled to Kranglovear, Cambodia to serve at Child Rescue Organization, a shelter for orphaned, neglected, or otherwise underprivileged children. There, Neil implemented what he had been working on for an entire year: his computer project.
“My idea was to equip study groups with a computer because right now they only have a white board and a couple markers,” Neil said. “The groups are completely student-run, student-driven, student-organized.”
Neil was originally inspired to complete this project after he took a class at HKIS called Asian History in Action: Cambodia (AHiA: Cambodia), taught by Michael Kersten. In this class, students examine the various pitfalls of “voluntourism” in the context of their own service trips to Cambodia.
Neil, who took AHiA: Cambodia course during the 2014-2015 school year, saw the need for educational tools after hearing about the CRO students’ schooling situation upon visiting their headmaster’s home.
There, he learned that teachers in the public schools can only afford to teach for half the day because of their low compensation. As a result, teachers either provide students with half of the standard material, or they attempt to teach all of the material in half the normally-allotted time.
“After school the students with money try to get tutoring from the teachers out of school, so the teachers get a little money from that,” Neil said. “The students without the extra money don’t get the extra tutoring, and that creates a gap.”
At first, Neil wanted to build a computer lab within the school to provide students with computers as a type of self-study tool they could use outside of class. However, he moved in a different direction when he learned that the Cambodian government prohibits private organizations from working with those in the public sector.
After some more research, Neil decided to equip individual study groups with computers rather than building an entire lab — an idea he now likes better than his original computer lab plan.
“The students who don’t get the tutoring often go to study groups, because in study groups they can work with their peers. I was thinking that if they can access the information that’s on the web, then that would be a very powerful tool for self study.”
Neil funded his project with the money he was given from the Jim Handrich Service Endowment Fund, which supports service leadership projects for HKIS students. Neil used this money to purchase the laptops, a storage locker, and data plans.
Throughout his senior year, Neil communicated with his project-supervisor, Kersten, as well as CWEF staff members Danay Mao, Cambodia education director, and Persephone James, executive director.
“Mr. Kersten, Danay, and I would have Skype meetings once a month to talk about the project,” Neil said. “Mr. Kersten and I would meet probably once a week or once every other week.”
After a year of organization and communication, CRO invited the students from the study groups to a ceremony during which the students officially received their computers and learned about how to properly use and care for them.
After several speeches, the students broke into their study groups to get their hands on the new tools. Sprawled out on the carpeted floor, they explored the laptops with wide eyes, raptly focusing on the HKIS leaders explaining the computers’ different functions.
For Neil, this moment was unreal. After a year’s worth of effort, the reality of implementing all of his effort wouldn’t settle.
“It was a good moment,” he said simply.
Neil plans to continue his computer project, and has appointed a rising senior at HKIS to identify more student study groups in Cambodia who would benefit from a laptop.
Neil will attend Princeton University in the Fall and plans to study engineering. He says that this experience has pushed him to pursue a social impact in his future career.
“This trip has made me focus not just in succeeding in my field, but succeeding in my field so that I can have a positive impact in the world,” Neil said. “Not just for the glory of success, but also to help people.”