Ocean Shores residents Ed and Sylvia Schroll enjoy a somewhat unusual approach to creating holiday spirit and good cheer. They travel to the other side of the globe to spend a month or more living among and helping families whose annual incomes wouldn’t begin to pay for the Schrolls’ air fare from Seattle to the impoverished Southeast Asia nation of Cambodia.
They returned to the land of plenty and their home off of Duck Lake Drive in early December. It’s been five years since Ed began to find he simply could not forget or ignore the needs of some people he had met purely by chance as he pursued his personal passion for photography half a world from his home.
Ed was still involved in his professional life in elevator mechanics and maintenance when his interest led him to a situation that would ultimately change his life and the lives of his family and untold numbers, well into the hundreds, of people he had never met before.
“Photography is my avocation, has been for a very long time,” he explained. “I like to take pictures of people whose daily lives are different from ours.”
That passion took him to some unusual places and settings, such as following (through his lenses) an old-style traveling circus, complete with elephants being used to erect the big top. Surviving a white-out blizzard in Alaska, while waiting for Iditarod dog sled racers to come into his camera’s view, made him consider a visit to the warmer climate of Southeast Asia. After enjoying trips to Thailand and Laos, he visited the Takeo Delta region of Cambodia in 2011.
“On my last day, a tuk-tuk driver asked if I wanted to go see an orphanage,” he recalled. There he met Kim Ny, who had been disabled all his life but, from his wheelchair, was running an orphanage for 28 kids. “He was doing it all, with the help of a very small French foundation.”
Moved by this one man’s inspiring effort, Ed returned home to the Pacific Northwest, where he raised around $600 at work, and sent it to Kim. About six months later, an email told him that the orphanage faced a crisis as it had lost its foundation support and had been evicted.
Ed asked a small Puyallup area church where he did volunteer maintenance if they could help. About two dozen members agreed to monthly donations of $20 or so, and an organized effort started to take shape to help a group of orphans some 8,000 miles away.
Public education is woeful in the impoverished nation, so Kim had added a school to the orphanage. They needed about $600 each month just for bare-bones basics. So Ed spent the better part of the next two years raising money. “Little by little,” he said, it was coming in. After using the church’s non-profit status, in 2014 the Schrolls created a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, the Caring for Poor and Orphaned Children Foundation (CPOC).
Serious illness forced Kim out of the picture, but word had begun to spread, in part through the foundation’s website, www.caringforpoorandorphanedchildren.org, and its Facebook page. In the last year and a half, Ed said, “we’ve been getting dozens of volunteers, mainly from Europe,” because, he believes, “they see there are places in the world where you can make a difference.”
In particular a couple from the Netherlands, Walton and Kim Bolock, have come to share Ed and Sylvia’s vision in a life-changing way:
“They stayed three months, and missed it so much they came back for another three months. Then it was six months, then a year and now indefinitely,” Ed remembered with a smile. They have become the foundation’s “on-the-ground, hands-on people that make the calls and get it done.
“They’re kind, caring, wonderful people,” he said. “They’re young… they’re dreamers.”
The financial underpinnings have also grown more solid. “We have a string of 50 or so regular donors,” Ed explained. That has meant “we now have enough money to do projects.”
Water-borne illness is rampant in the region and one in five children doesn’t reach the age of six. So in the last two years, CPOC has funded and overseen the digging of six deep clean water wells. They now provide safe water to this rural area of tiny farms, which is about the size of Ocean Shores and home to 3,000 or so. They plan to add two new wells each year.
The foundation now spends about $10,000 a year. It still feeds and houses orphans, and buys mandatory school uniforms, shoes and backpacks. It boasts 100 to 150 kids and adults in English classes daily as well as 30-40 kids in computer classes. Two kids it sent to university are now teachers who return to the village to teach one day each week.
“It’s not just money that works wonders there,” Ed likes to point out. Everyday, over-the-counter medications that we take for granted, especially for sick kids, are often in short supply over there. Things like anti-bacterial ointment can literally make a difference between life and death. And tubes of Neosporin don’t take up much suitcase space.
The Schrolls usually take used eyeglasses, as many as 200 pair, collected over the year here in the North Coast area. “Our throwaways have become something really sought after there,” he said. He especially recalls the reaction of an elderly villager when a free pair of glasses gave her aged eyes their first-ever sharp, clear image of her grandchildren. She laughed and cried at the same time.
Labor of love
“I’ve fallen in love with the people,” Ed shrugged, smiling. “It was never something I planned,” and organizing an international effort to help them “was never something I knew how to do. But it became something I had to do.” For his wife, it’s easy: the best part is always simply “spending time with the kids.”
Ed and Sylvia are also active in the North Coast community. As this story was being written, they were helping with the holiday meal distribution at the Ocean Shores Food Bank, where they have volunteered for four years. They’ve donated equipment to the Ocean Shores Elementary School computer program.
He is beginning his third year as president of Associated Arts of Ocean Shores, one of the oldest non-profits in the community. This fall, Ed started doing a weekly two-hour show on KOSW 91.3FM, the community’s all-volunteer radio station.
And he still finds time to pursue photography. Ed was the photographer for more than 250 free Santa pictures at the annual Kiwanis Kids Christmas party at the Ocean Shores Convention Center. Many of his favorite images, including some from Cambodia and some from Ocean Shores, are on his website at www.imagescentral.net.
For this pair of energetic go-getters, the appeal of helping others is in one respect universal: from Ocean Shores to Southeast Asia, people everywhere all over the world need each other’s help. Compassion is humanity’s greatest gift.
In another way, the economics of helping others make the Schrolls’ adopted village very appealing: compared to here in the US, money goes much, much farther in Cambodia.
“Over here, my $20 donation can put a few gallons of gas in somebody’s car and maybe buy a bag of groceries,” Ed explained. “Twenty dollars can literally feed a family of four for a month in Cambodia!”
He continued, “Over there, it costs $700 a year to send a kid to university. It’s less than $800 to dig a clean water well for a village. It can be a drop in the bucket here, and almost a small tidal wave over there.”
How to help
Donations to the foundation are tax deductible. Checks should be made to CPOC and sent to P.O. Box 1361, Ocean Shores, WA 98569.
Ed noted that donors who wish may have their contributions earmarked for specific uses, such as water wells or school supplies.
Ed can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found at www.caringforpoorandorphanedchildren.org.