The first major goal of Girls Supporting Girls is to raise $35,000 by January 2015 to build a school in Cambodia.
Why focus on Cambodia when so many countries have dire needs?
Education in this Southeast Asian country was virtually eliminated by the Khmer Rouge when they seized power here in 1975.
-- Schools were closed, books were burned and educated people (often identified by the fact that they wore eyeglasses) such as teachers were subjected to torture and often executed.
It's estimated that 90 percent of all teachers in Cambodia were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime.
-- The entire population was moved to forced labor camps in the countryside in an effort to to create a society based on an 11th century model of agricultural communism. The population was starved and overworked, and by the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s, one quarter of Cambodia's population of 8 million people were dead.
-- Literacy was entirely neglected and most literate role models were killed, so almost an entire generation of Cambodian children grew up not knowing how to read. After the Khmer Rouge was driven from power, the educational system had to be re-created from scratch.
-- It took two decades for Cambodia to achieve a degree of normalcy: In 1999 the country experienced its first full year of peace in 30 years. But the country is still working to clear land mines, revive its culture and create a strong economy. More than three quarters of the people here still make their livings from farming or forestry.
-- 80 percent of Cambodians attend primary school, but only 32 percent move on to secondary school. Half of all young girls and one third of boys work, and as a result the ratio of girls to boys in school is 1:3. For girls in Cambodia, additional educational barriers exist, such as parents' worries about over-educating their daughters—a potential handicap to marriage prospects.
-- What may be the most staggering statistic of all: Today, 50 percent of Cambodia's population of 14 million people is under 22 years old. There's an immediate, unique need to educate these young people and help a nation that continues to rebuild after the atrocities that took place nearly 40 years ago.