On a Mission

Torrey Pines grad teaching hospitality in Cambodia

By Linda McIntosh


Ben Justus learned hospitality at an early age. He’s been serving Christmas dinner to the homeless at Brother Benno’s in Oceanside since he was 7 years old. But for the first time in 17 years, Justus will not be joining his family this December serving there.

Instead, Justus will be serving in another way. The 24-year old Carmel Valley resident will be in Cambodia teaching hospitality classes at an orphanage. Justus is helping orphans in their teens and early 20s land jobs in the hotels and restaurants of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

“I want to provide them with a little hope,” Justus said in a phone interview from Phnom Penh. “They’re so down, and I want to give them the motivation to go out and get jobs and be self-sustaining adults.”

Justus left his job as an assistant property manager in Chicago and is using his savings to volunteer for six months at the Palm Tree Orphanage in Phnom Penh, which houses 96 children and is run by the charity Cambodia’s Hope.

Justus is slated to return to the U.S. in March, but that will not be the end of his mission. This is the first of many missions Justus is planning as part of the nonprofit he founded in 2007, called EGBOK Mission, also known as “Everything’s Gonna Be OK.”

Justus started the organization in his junior year at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, where he was studying hospitality management. Since then, he has raised $35,000 and drawn 300 donors from across the country.

Originally, the group’s goal was to give educational and vocational training in the hospitality industry to youths in developing countries, but Justus has expanded the mission to include the U.S. One of his upcoming missions is to help at-risk inner city youths in Chicago launch careers in the hospitality industry. He also hopes to continue the mission’s work in South Africa.

The idea for helping Cambodia’s Hope came to Justus after visiting the orphanage in 2006 during a Semester at Sea study program with Cornell University that took him to India, South Africa, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Cambodia.

When he returned home, the children in the orphanage stuck in his mind. Justus felt he could apply his training in hospitality management there by teaching them hospitality classes and showing them how to get jobs in local hotels and restaurants. He started by working with a restaurant near the orphanage.

“These kids are very intelligent and educated,” Justus said. “I wanted to show them that they could get a job and move away from the orphanage.”

The inspiration for his first mission to Cambodia came from his studies and his travels to developing countries, where he got a taste of hospitality flavored by different cultures. Justus wrote on his Web site, “I have witnessed the gracious and dedicated service that makes people smile. My hope is that others can develop the essential skills to work in the hospitality industry while providing heartfelt service to others on the job and in their community.”

Justus’ world travels and his desire to help in the community started when he was a child. His mother is a travel agent, and the family traveled around the world.

“In his travels, he has seen places where poverty is unbelievable,” said his mother, Beth Justus.

“Seeing how other people lived hit him early on,” said his brother Bryan Justus, 27.

Bryan Justus serves as a member of the board of EGBOK Mission, along with several of Justus’ fellow graduates of Cornell.

When Ben Justus started EGBOK Mission, it was no surprise to his family. “Ben’s always been involved in the community,” his mother said.

As a student at Torrey Pines High School, Justus raised money for multiple sclerosis and formed a running team to participate in a three-day multiple sclerosis fundraising event. He also tutored elementary school students and served as associated student body president.

“As a mom, of course I’m concerned about his living in a Third World country without our standards of health care and living on a mainly rice and vegetable diet, but he wants to make his mark in the world and I’m proud of him,” Beth Justus said. “I believe it’s his life’s work.”

She recalled teleconferencing on Skype with her son over the computer at midnight last week and seeing him at the orphanage with kids all around him and on his lap.

“He told us their names and then introduced us to them,” she said.

When asked how he could leave his job and move to the Cambodian orphanage for six months, Ben Justus said: “I felt like this was the right decision. This is what I want to be doing.”

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