TEAK Fellowship founder, mother, artist, and longtime CCF supporter, Justine Stamen Arrillaga found herself 6,500 miles from her home in Hawaii, celebrating a truly remarkable achievement: she had recruited 50 child sponsors for CCF

Most people want to do something memorable to celebrate their 50th birthday but Justine Stamen Arrillaga was seeking more than just a party to mark the day.

Named the ‘50 for 50 project’, Justine set out to find 50 people to sponsor a child with CCF before her 50th birthday in 2020. Turning the corner on the dusty road leading to the Cambodian Children’s Fund head office in Phnom Penh, Justine received the news that she had not expected to hear for another year – she had reached the target and therefore completed the project, over a year ahead of schedule.

“I am turning 50 in 2020, and three years ago I said: I want to find 50 sponsors by the time I am 50. As of today… the last 5 or 6 sponsors came in and we completed the project,” said Justine.

Justine had travelled from her home in Hawaii where she lives with her three children and husband, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Over the past three years she has become deeply involved with CCF, but her journey with the organisation all began with a discarded newspaper.

“We don’t get the newspaper on the island we live on daily. At a hotel, close to where we live, I saw a newspaper on the ground and I grabbed it … It was the Wall Street Journal story about Scott. I felt like I needed to meet this man, so I emailed him and I put a note on Facebook saying ‘does anybody in my community know this man?’, and at the same time he wrote back to me and said ‘I’m with the Dalai Lama, can I get back to you?’,” Justine explained.

Justine was drawn to the 2015 Wall Street journal article about CCF founder, Scott Neeson, and she sees the incident as ‘fate’. Read the story that inspired Justine, and many others, to support CCF here.

Compelled by the article, Justine sponsored two children and travelled to Phnom Penh in 2015 with her friend, Lesley Slatkin. Upon meeting students at CCF, they both chose to sponsor another child, bringing their total to five sponsored kids between them alone. It was at this point that Justine embarked on her mission to find sponsors for 45 more children. Lesley also worked hard to help her friend of nearly 40 years, Justine, with the project and brought in several of her own friends and family members to sponsor children.

“After visiting CCF, I saw that this program is greater than anyone could ever imagine. There are so many international programs and you really don’t know what they are like and most of us don’t have the good fortune to get to visit. After seeing it [CCF] with my own eyes, I felt like it was better than I had even read about. That’s what made me want to have my friends join me in the joy that comes from being a sponsor,” said Justine.

How did she manage to find sponsors for 45 more children? Justine’s own story provides an insight into her motivation and her growing network of friends that are so willing to give back.

“All of my donors are in New York City, where I worked and lived for 15 years, Los Angeles where I am from, Northern California where I lived for ten years and had my children, and then of course Hawaii where I have spent the past 5 years and the place where Scott visited my family, and where I got to know Cambodian Children’s Fund through the newspaper that I think was the fate,” Justine explained.

Justine’s philanthropy extends beyond CCF, she recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of a fellowship she founded in honour of her childhood best friend, Teak Dyer, who was murdered at age 18 in Los Angeles. You can read more about the TEAK Fellowship here.

“The TEAK Fellowship helps low income, talented students to get into, and succeed, at the top private schools in the North East and it is a seven year fellowship. I’m very proud of our community there. Cambodian Children’s Fund is kind of like TEAK on steroids, with your 2,000 kids. I am in awe of what you do and I understand how hard it is,” said Justine.

With the experience of her own fellowship, Justine understands the complexities and challenges that come with providing care and education to deprived communities. To express her appreciation to her network of CCF supporters- friends, family, mutual friends- Justine created individual pieces of art for each sponsor.

“I have been painting for 40 years and I just wanted to give each person a piece of myself to say thank you for giving of themselves,” said Justine.

During her visit to Phnom Penh, Justine met with all 50 children to present them with gifts from Hawaii and photographed them with the paintings for their sponsors.

“They [the sponsors]… have enjoyed their relationships with the children and being that one person out there in the world who is far away but still cares so much about the child,” said Justine.
“I would be hard pressed to find a better place to spend $150 per month, in our country [US] money just doesnt go this far and it is just the reality, it is what it is. So, if you are thinking about making a financial contribution then this is a place I know is extremely well managed and well run, and lean in how they run their operation, and where children get what we are promised as donors. It’s not always like that.”

Over ten years, CCF will receive one million dollars from the 50 sponsors. What began with one woman’s curiosity to pick up a discarded newspaper, has resulted in a wealth of support and love for 50 children, their families, communities, CCF and the sponsors too.

“Justine has been a true force of nature since she took Cambodian Children’s Fund under her wing,” said Scott Neeson, CCF’s Founder and Executive Director.
“Many years ago it would have been hard to imagine getting 50 sponsors on board at any time, let alone by a deadline. But Justine has exceeded that deadline already, she has found sponsors for so many of our children. We are so glad to have her on board. She truly understands the fabric of CCF.”

CCF would like to say thank you to Justine and all of the sponsors who followed in her footsteps, your support is helping to transform the lives of children at CCF. If you have been inspired by Justine’s passion, you can learn more about sponsoring a child here.

Alice Brown/CCF

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