When Brian Bell first visited Cambodia, he had no idea it would inspire him to make a difference.
Bell, a 75-year-old Falkland resident, has made it his mission to help build an English school in Svay Chek Village Cambodia. To raise awareness for his project, Bell — who has been strumming and singing the music of Johnny Cash for nearly four decades — and friends will rock Record City with Coffee House Cash and Friends for Cambodia May 26.
“An old buddy of mine from back east said let’s go on a road trip,” Bell said of his first trip to Cambodia in February 2017. “I took off with the intent to play for orphans, students, anyone who would listen.”
Bell had heard about the situation in Cambodia and the fall of the Pol Pot regime, but it wasn’t until he went there that he truly understood what it all meant.
So, after returning to Falkland, Bell began his research. He knew the country was poor, but what he didn’t realize was the immense need for schooling and teachers.
“It’s hard to explain until you experience it. I get emotional. It touches me,” Bell said as water welled in his eyes. “So I said, ‘What can I do?’”
Known in Svay Chek Village as ‘Papa Brian,’ Bell spent $100 and bought school books and backpacks for the village’s 75 children. The kids responded by sending him a photo where they are holding a sign to thank him for his generosity.
However, Bell wanted to do more.
“There’s a whole underlying tragedy in Cambodia of sex trafficking, poverty and corruption,” Bell said. “What they really need is school, education. I said, ‘Yes, I’m going to help you guys.’ I’m going to help them the best I can. I’m going to go back to play my music, and I’m going to build that school. I already have the land donated.”
According to Bell, a three-room school will cost about $30,000.
For the Coffee House Cash and Friends for Cambodia concert, however, Bell said his primary goal is raising awareness.
“I want people that have a heart, that want to help,” Bell said. “I’m looking for people to encourage me and help. Is anyone looking for happiness? Everybody is seeking money. It’s through giving that happiness comes.”
Joined on stage by local performers The Porch Pickers, Soulstice Creation (Tristan Charbonneau), Ernest anyway, Manfred Harter, Adrien Lapierre, Steve Saba and Gus Hansen, Bell hopes to share that message with Vernon.
Bell began jamming Johnny Cash’s hits when he was 35-years-old for his son’s boy scout troop.
“That was 35 years ago, and my love of Johnny’s songs hasn’t diminished,” he said,
Bell wears his inspiration on his sleeves. A true Cash fan, Bell has a silhouetted guitar player tattooed on his left forearm with text above and below that reads, “I Walk the Line, for you.”
And, on his other arm, Bell has a tattoo of a Buddhist message written in Khmer and the words “love forever,” also written in Khmer, tattooed between a Canadian and Cambodian flag.
“I want to leave a legacy for my kids, my grandkids,” Bell said. “I’m a dreamer type of guy. I’m 75, I’m in physically good health, and if I can, I want to make a difference.”
Because for Bell, that’s his purpose.
“They see that there’s somebody that cares for them. They see hope.”
SMG Endeavors presents Coffee House Cash and Friends for Cambodia at Record City May 26 from 7-11 p.m. Tickets are $10 advance in store, $15 at the door, $10 students and free for children 12-and-under.