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In November 2013, 11 Atlassian employees went to Cambodia to visit the schools and libraries Atlassian helped build with funds raised for Room To Read. The trip impacted all of us: We saw how eager the Cambodian children were to learn in school, we witnessed the sacrifice their families and children go through to go to school, and saw the difference we’ve helped make. We met two girls, Set and Sonita, who graduated from the Girls Education program and are now a teacher and a doctor. After the trip, we felt even more compelled to focus on raising money specifically for the Cambodia Room to Read Girls Education program.

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During our visit, the kids gave each of us beautiful art work including hats, necklaces, and souvenirs they hand made for each of us. The hard work and efforts they put into each piece was full of love and appreciation for the support we’ve provided for them to improve their chances at a better education.

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I’m a horrible artist; I can draw stick figures and almost color inside the lines sometimes, but it’s a huge effort for me. While I can’t draw well, I do appreciate and purchase beautiful art that makes me happy, so you could say I’m a patron of the arts. Many tech employees don’t have an opportunity to show off our hidden artistic talents to the world. However, I feel this connection to creativity and art can open your heart and allow you to express how you feel about a topic or an idea – whether you identify as an artist or not.

So, I had this vision of connecting the amazing artwork by employees and friends of Atlassian with a fundraising event to raise funds for the Cambodia Girls Education program for Room to Read. It was a crazy idea, as none of us knew much about professional art, how to run an art gala auction, or how much money we could raise. We guesstimated that we could raise between $5-$10K if we had at least 15 artists to donate their art work to the event.

We ended up with 23 pieces of art work donated created by Atlassian employees, friends, and professional artists, along with eight creative experiences donated by both employees and local businesses. We made almost $32K by the end of the evening! The key to our success was the hard work by our volunteers, the amazing ability of our professional auctioneer, the inspiring speeches by the founder of Room to Read, John Wood, and the Cambodia Country Director for Room to Read, Kall Kann. And of course, the very generous Atlassian employees, friends, and families who bid on and purchased the art work.

The theme to inspire the art work was “World change starts with an educated child,” which is also the mission of Room to Read. One of the beautiful paintings created by Ben Crothers, a designer at Atlassian, had a wonderful story that accompanied his art work and became one of the biggest auction items of the evening:

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Changes by Ben Crothers

“What inspires me about the work of Room to Read is not only the way they promote literacy, especially with children, but the dignity and inclusion that goes along with literacy. If you can’t read and write, you are literally locked out of conversations, texts…to some extent even your own culture. I see literacy as a powerful catalyst that should never be denied anyone. I wanted to use colour in this piece to evoke the playfulness of childhood, as well as a source of unconstrained energy. The Khmer lettering (kar phlasa btau r, trans. “Changes”) is part of the mental and emotional ‘conversation’ the viewer has with this work: for most people viewing this, they won’t understand the text, which gives a window into what it’s like not being able to read, to gain meaning, to share. But the beauty of the lettering, as well as the rings (evoking uncovered value) keeps that conversation positive.” -Ben Crothers

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The night was a special evening for all of us as we listened to the stories by John Wood and Kall Kann, from the struggles in Cambodia they have witnessed to the difference we’ve been able to make with Room to Read for the children in the rural villages of Cambodia. You can learn more about Atlassian’s partnership with Room to Read here.

The Atlassian Art Gala for Room to Read is the first of what we hope to be many more creative fundraising events. Just $250 educates a girl for a year in Cambodia through Room to Read: donate and support our cause!

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