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Hope. Admiration. Respect. Joy. For the students and the parents. And for Alan Lightman, founder of The Harpswell Foundation (http://harpswellfoundation.org/index.htm).  These are the feelings I experience every time I visit The Harpswell Foundation Leadership Center for Women in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My visit last Sunday was no exception.

I have written about the work of The Harpswell Foundation in past blogs.  I am a big fan of its strategic focus on developing the brightest female students from the countryside who demonstrate leadership potential and a desire to drive positive change in their country. Cambodia is a country which continues to struggle to overcome its history of war and genocide.

Lin, Sophal and I arrived via Mr. Key’s tuk-tuk at the newest of the two dormitories at precisely 3:00. The timing of our visit was important, as Sophal had arranged to have ice cream for 80 delivered at precisely 3:30. There are no freezers at the dorm and the ice cream would not last long in the tropical heat.

The students began to arrive from the other dormitory on their motos, and the laughter level in the courtyard ratcheted up several notches with each arriving group. Fun was in the air!

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 This was Lin’s first visit to the dormitory. As a former educator, she easily engaged with the students and within minutes was off for a picture taking tour of the facility. 

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Students sleep four to a room, and each has her own desk

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Study room where lively current affairs discussions help develop critical thinking skills

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All students have access to the internet

I focused on meeting the first year students, who confidently introduced themselves in English. There were at least four math majors, several engineers, as well as physics and a biology major.  Plus finance & banking majors, economics majors and others. Very impressive!

Varony corralled us all in the third floor Hall of Great Women and asked Sophal and I to tell the students about Red Dirt Road, the social enterprise business in Tramung Chrum village. Lin was AWOL, but arrived in time to talk to the students about the importance of art and culture in helping individuals to understand themselves. She explained the importance of understanding who you are as an individual before you can effectively lead others. It was a potent message, delivered with energy and humor in under five minutes. Not bad for a spontaneous presentation!

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The ice cream was consumed in rapid order and after a little more social time, we left the girls so they could get back to their studies. As usual, I departed with a feeling of hope for the future of Cambodia. And admiration of these young women who intend to be a force of positive change in their country. Respect for their parents, who made sure their daughters were among the few females to finish the twelfth grade.  And a feeling of joy from spending time with this energetic and lively group of promising female leaders.

It costs about $2000 to support one student for one year in each the leadership center dormitories.  Donations to support The Harpswell foundation’s endeavor to Empower a New generation of Women Leaders in Cambodia can be made on its web site at (http://harpswellfoundation.org/contact/index.html).

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