After spending the year at Bowdoin through the Harpswell Foundation, two Cambodian students, Keavatey Srun and Len Leng, recently to give a talk at Bowdoin about growing up in rural Cambodia and defying expectations that they marry young and don’t go to university.
The students were joined by the Harpswell Foundation’s founding director, Alan Lightman H’05. Lightman established Harpswell Foundation in 2007 to aid in the rebuilding Cambodia after the trauma and violence of the Khmer Rouge. By offering free room and board to young women while they attend university in Phnom Penh, the foundation helps give rural women access to a university education. “It is our hope that 15 years from now these women will be leaders of the country,” Lightman said.
The foundation’s academic program in Cambodia also offers its students leadership seminars, history and geography lessons, debating sessions and English classes. Each year, the Harpswell Foundation sends graduates to Bowdoin for one year of study. At the same time, Bowdoin students travel to Cambodia for summer internships. Past interns have been Macy Galvan ’13, Juliet Eyraud ’16, June Guo ’16 and Leah Alper ’17.
At the recent talk, Eyraud shared updates from a few past Cambodian students who have studied at Bowdoin. Marady Kith ’12, who is now a legal advisor at HBS in Cambodia, hopes to get a law degree and become a leader of an NGO that protects laborers. Chandy Eng ’14 recently won a $30,000 grant from Oxfam to establish women’s resources in Cambodia. Eng told Eyraud that she was inspired by Bowdoin’s Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.
Eyraud also passed on a message from Kalyan Yim ’99, who was at Bowdoin in 2011-2012. “I used to be so afraid to ask questions and challenge other people,” Eyraud said that Yim told her. “The communication skills that I gained from Bowdoin will always be a tremendous tool for me to work well and build trust with others.”
Leng and Srun then shared stories from their lives. Leng grew up as the only child in a small farming community and resisted her family’s pressure to marry at 16. After pursuing earning a journalism degree in 2010, she worked in Cambodia as a correspondent traveling the country and reporting on indigenous people. In the future, Leng said she wants to continue in multimedia journalism and set up community service/education programs — like the McKeen Center — in her home country.
Srun, who also grew up in a small village, talked about her father’s low expectations for her and his lack of support for her education. Before coming to Bowdoin, Srun said she had to “break the gender barriers in my family and in Cambodian society.” A physics teacher, her father did not understand his daughter’s desire to be educated — until she won an outstanding physics award. “I proved to my dad and family that girls could be as good at science as boys,” Srun said.