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Service through the Service Industry: SAS Alumnus Starts Non-Profit in Cambodia

While the MV Explorer docked in Viet Nam, 300 students took advantage of Semester at Sea trips to visit neighboring Cambodia, experiencing recent history at the Killing Fields, exploring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, and seeing the remarkable impact of a very recent SAS alumnus. Ben Justus, who visited Cambodia as a student on the Spring 2007 voyage, has transitioned his SAS experience into the non-profit realm, founding a hospitality training school in Cambodia and growing the project significantly over the past 5 years. Justus, who now lives full-time in Cambodia, joined the current voyage as it sailed from Singapore to Viet Nam, sharing his experiences starting a non-profit, inviting current students to visit his organization in Cambodia, and inspiring the next set of SAS leaders.

Justus, a graduate of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, combined his Ivy League education with his SAS perspective and founded EBGOK Mission, a hospitality training school for Cambodian students. Although the genocides in Cambodia ended in the late 1970s, the country has only recently begun to rebound. Tourism has sky-rocketed over 1,000% since 1995, yet still only 2.3% of Cambodians finish high school and 30% of Cambodians live on less than 45 cents per day. Justus is out to improve these statistics. EGBOK capitalizes on the tourism boom by identifying high-potential Cambodian youth from orphanages and rural villages and training them to become highly-skilled employees in the surging tourism market.

“As soon I left the ship, I set up the organization,” Justus explained of the genesis of EGBOK Mission, named after his grandfather’s mantra “Everything’s Gonna be OK.” “Basically, we wanted to use hospitality as a means to alleviate poverty. The whole mission statement for the organization is that we provide education and vocational training to underprivileged youth so that they can be independent through hospitality.”

EGBOK students in hotel, tourism, and food services at the training center in Siem Reap

After 2 years as a fund-raising entity, Justus transitioned EGBOK into a training school by quitting his full-time Chicago job and moving to Cambodia, where he’s lived since 2009.  “I went out on my own with no computer and no phone and it allowed me to get to know the people and the context of the country,” he said. EGBOK has since grown to an international team of 10 people and 140 students per year, preparing for careers in every hospitality field from travel agent to bartender and bellhop to pastry chef.

Although EGBOK has hosted SAS alumni as volunteers for the past few years, this voyage was the first time current SAS students were able to visit the training school. Justus and 2 EGBOK students joined the Spring 2012 voyage for the 2-day stretch from Singapore to Viet Nam, promoting the program and inspiring the next batch of SAS alumni to carry their experience home with them. “I’ve spoken to a number of students who are interested in starting up their own initiatives post-SAS and I think that’s the coolest part,” Justus explained. “Obviously I was inspired to do this because of Semester at Sea and we can always get more students to take part.”

Click here to learn more about EGBOK at their website, including volunteer opportunities in Cambodia.

See a few of EBGOK’s photos from Cambodia below.

  • Culture

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