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Cambodian students ‘stole my heart’ – and thus began a charity for young women

The Cambodian Legal Education for Women, or CLEW, helps keep 25 women in law school in the Asian country.

The Donors: Elizabeth Bennett-Martin, Chuck and Ruth Gastle

The Cause: Founding Cambodian Legal Education for Women

The Reason:To help women in Cambodia become lawyers

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When Toronto lawyer Chuck Gastle returned from a business trip to Cambodia a few years ago, he began telling his law partner, Elizabeth Bennett-Martin, about a pair of students he had started supporting at a university in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Gastle urged Ms. Bennett-Martin to get involved and he eventually persuaded her to go to Cambodia in 2009 to meet the students. "They stole my heart," she recalled.

Within months, she and Mr. Gastle contributed about $2,500 to help the two young women finish their law studies and then chipped in $20,000 to help more students. That was just the start.

"We got the idea that it would be wonderful to start a charity, particularly for these students from dirt poor villages," Ms. Bennett-Martin said.

That led to the creation of a Canadian charity called the Cambodian Legal Education for Women, or CLEW.

Co-chaired by Ms. Bennett-Martin and Mr. Gastle's wife, Ruth, CLEW provides tuition, living expenses and accommodation for 25 female law students.

When one student graduates, another one receives financial aid, to keep the number at 25. So far, 23 students have graduated; some are working on human rights, land-claim issues and with women's groups.

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CLEW, a registered charity, has partnered with local aid worker Marnie Ryan and her husband, Ford Thai, who provide accommodation for the young women, as well as Plan Cambodia, which refers students.

Ms. Bennett-Martin and the Gastles also raise about $30,000 annually.

"I never in my wildest dreams would have expected that I would be doing this in my life," she said.

"I've learned so much about myself, about the girls, and about how much I have to be grateful for in my life."

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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