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The formation of a dream

Former Kennedy High School student Kurt Berning wants to provide
middle and high school education in Cambodia through a nonprofit.


Lindsay Keefer  Published:
12/15/2010 8:34:18 PM

Kurt Berning
Cambodian elementary students
receive a lot of foreign aid for their education. However, secondary
students are often with little or no help, which is why JFK graduate
Kurt Berning has started Global Alliance for Developing Education, to
help with aid for secondary education.
Photo By: Submitted

ANGEL — A John F. Kennedy High School graduate may have landed his
dream job a year and a half before graduating from college.

University of Portland junior Kurt Berning, a 2008 graduate of the Mt.
Angel high school, and classmate Kenny King, who hails from Snohomish,
Wash., developed a business idea to educate people in developing

“Our basic mission is to build and strengthen schools in developing countries, starting with Cambodia,” Berning said.

Both students are among 18 in the university’s Entrepreneur Scholar
Program, which provides classroom activity and applied experience,
including travel abroad, to expose students to new and different ways
of doing business while encouraging them to start their own business.

of us always wanted to do something and the E-Scholar Program gave us a
reason to start it,” Berning said. “It provided the impetus for making
everything happen.”

Berning said there is a benefit to starting the business while still going to college.

“I don’t need to be paid for this right now because I’m in school. I
have another job, so this is a great year and a half to develop the
business, iron out the kinks and assess the risk and opportunity,” he

After the regime of Pol Pot in the 1970s, which resulted in the
genocide of millions of Cambodians, the country is behind many of its
neighbors in education, Berning said.

“All the intellectual and educated people were wiped out. That’s kind
of why we’re there,” he said, adding that King’s family was impacted by
a recent visit to the country.

Through their new company, Global Alliance for Developing Education
(ADE), the two students are working to gain nonprofit status so they
can specifically support secondary education for rural villagers in

“There are a lot of nonprofits there focusing on primary schools,”
Berning said. “It’s a lucrative area because the kids are cute and it’s
easy to put in pictures.”

He said that while secondary education in Cambodia is free, pupils
often can’t afford uniforms and books that would only cost $30 in the

“We’re definitely focusing on the rural areas,” Berning said.

“The cities are saturated with nonprofits there. In rural Cambodia,
about 26 percent of students actually make it to the middle school
level. That means 74 percent will never receive more than a
fourth-grade education. That’s why we want to target our work there.”

The cost to run a business in Cambodia isn’t that expensive according to U.S. standards, Berning said.

“We have the opportunity to do a lot of good in relation to what we could do in the U.S.,” he said.

“To build a high quality school building is $19,000. A teacher’s salary
is $2,000 to $3,000. That’s a very respectable wage. There’s a lot you
can do with a small amount.”

Berning said he wasn’t always so globally minded.

“I definitely started college with the notion that I would make a lot
of money and succeed as fast as possible and be financially wealthy,”
he said. “My priorities have changed. Seeing what life is like around
the world, I want to go the nonprofit route. Honestly, I don’t want to
make a lot of money from this business. … I think it’s really the
opportunity to make a difference.”

A trip is planned over spring break in March through the E-Scholar
Program, with stops in China before the duo heads to Cambodia for the
first time.

“We have a couple of contacts. … We plan to meet with those
organizations that work in rural villages and go out to a couple rural
destinations,” Berning said.

“We’ll meet with the people who we’re going to sponsor, look at
operations, look at where we would go. We’re going to do as much work
as possible.”

When they come back to University of Portland, the duo will work on a
fundraiser banquet, slated for April 1, which will be the kickoff for
spreading the word about their program.

“We’ll be able to come back and share our experiences and get a couple
people from Cambodia to speak,” Berning said about the event.

If the program becomes successful and expands beyond Cambodia, Berning said he hopes the next stop would be in Australia.

“I studied abroad in Australia last spring,” he said. “I had a very
strong experience while we were on a trip into the Outback, learning
about Aboriginal tribes.

“They’re facing some of the same problems in education but nobody in
Australia is taking a stand for their rights. My idea was to move back
and help their cause. … Our business is starting in Cambodia, but it
doesn’t have to end there.”

In the meantime, University of Portland students can donate unused
points from their meal plans to Global ADE to help finance the
fundraiser dinner.

To make reservations for the April 1 banquet, which will cost $50 a
plate and is open to the public, contact Kurt Berning at 503-428-8902
or berning12@up.edu


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