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Monday, 24 October 2011

Supporting Children in Cambodia

Michael Stern

The Wall Street Journal
OCTOBER 24, 2011

On a trip to Cambodia, Michael and Marjorie Stern saw more than just Angkor Wat.

Wherever they travel, the New York couple likes to take in markets, schools and recreational areas.

"I don't think you can understand a country unless you see how people live on an everyday basis," says Mr. Stern, 73 years old, president of Big Wood Foundation.

On this particular trip in 2007, the Sterns were taken to a "very fancy children's hospital" near Angkor Wat, he says, and they were given a glossy brochure and sent on their way. So, their guide suggested a visit to the hospital where his children receive care and the Sterns toured the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The hospital is supported by the New York-based nonprofit, Friends Without a Border.

"We were very moved by what we saw, the work of doctors and the plight of children," says Mr. Stern. When the couple returned home from their vacation, Mr. Stern made a donation and then subsequently joined the board, where he now serves as treasurer.

Through various family foundations, the Sterns have given nearly $290,000 to Friends Without a Border, including a recent grant of $21,000 that covered a day of care for patients and treatment for people with dengue fever.

Friends Without a Border was established in 1996 by Kenro Izu, a Japanese-born, New York-based photographer. In the early-to-mid-1990s, Mr. Izu made several trips to photograph the area around Angkor Wat and he was moved by the plight of children in need of medical care.

The Angkor Hospital for Children was completed in 1999 and has since provided free medical, dental, ophthalmologic and emergency care to more than 300 children daily. Critically, the hospital provides outpatient care to children with HIV, AIDS and other chronic illnesses.

The Sterns have long supported children's causes in New York. Through their Big Wood Foundation, Marjorie Stern runs a charity store, A Time for Children, on the Upper West Side. Proceeds from the store benefit New York's Children's Aid Society.

Mr. Stern, an accountant and lawyer by trade who worked in the perfume sector, says that he's become "emotionally involved" in the work of Friends Without a Border. "I don't feel like giving money and walking away," he says.

"What my wife and I look for when we get involved is we like to support, more or less, startup organizations with strong leadership," says Mr. Stern. "We like to work with younger organizations where our contributions can be meaningful."

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