By Jim Hellegaard
Bruce Lasky (JD 91) was on a journey, but he didn’t know where he was going. So, he did what any smart young man would do. He called his mom.
His call home came after a year of backpacking and volunteering through Southeast Asia. In Pembroke Pines, Florida, a world away from Bangkok, Thailand, that autumn of 2000, his mother, Sylvia, answered his call with a request — one that would help point him in the right direction.
“She asked if I could find two underprivileged kids for her to sponsor,” Lasky said. “She didn’t care where they were, but she wanted me to find a family and maybe give money directly to that family, not an organization.”
Sylvia Lasky soon received an envelope with photos of 65 children. “I called her and she’s like, ‘I’ve got 65 photos. I asked for two kids.’ So, I said, ‘All right, we just need to find more sponsors.’”
From the meager $800 he raised through e-mails to family and friends, Lasky started a village development and educational project that grew into Sustainable Cambodia. The organization reflected his mother’s idea of guaranteeing donors that 100 percent of their gifts would be spent on children and communities, rather than on international administrative fees.
After a long battle, Sylvia became seriously ill with cancer and Lasky returned to the U.S. to be with her. She passed away not long after his return.
While at home, Lasky met David Pred and Carol Mosley. The three began an independent organization named Bridges Across Borders, a sister organization to Sustainable Cambodia that became a grassroots international organization focusing on the belief that peace, sustainable development and human rights are interdependent and interrelated.
Lasky helps oversee the work of Sustainable Cambodia and is the director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEA CLE). As an adjunct professor of law at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, Lasky assists in strengthening the university’s Clinical Legal Education program, which BABSEA CLE supports. Lasky said BABSEA CLE and Sustainable Cambodia take holistic approaches based upon the understanding that bringing sustainability and justice to communities requires tackling a variety of problems and issues.
BABSEA CLE aims to empower vulnerable and under-served communities by creating and strengthening sustainable legal and human rights education and access to justice programs worldwide. This is accomplished by working globally to connect people, organizations, and resources through social justice focused community and clinical legal education programs.
In honor of his mother’s idea of helping children, Sustainable Cambodia established The Sylvia Lasky School in Pursat, Cambodia, offering instruction in math, science, computers, history, geography, English and human rights. Job skills training, micro-credit small business loans, alternative agriculture initiatives and an animal husbandry program are also provided. The organization also helps to develop water wells in Pursat, where residents previously relied on water collected in cisterns during the rainy season. The wells are used to irrigate the alternative agriculture systems the organization has set up in the village.
A decade has passed since Lasky left Gainesville and set out on his journey. He thinks his mother would be proud of his work.
“That’s a driving force. And I think that’s really important,” Lasky said. “It’s not, in that sense, losing her — you know, if she were still alive she probably would be telling me to get a more traditional job at this point, because she was a Jewish mother.”
“But I believe that she would be happy to know that we’re out there doing what we’re doing,” he said.