Empowering a New Generation of Leaders in the Developing World

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About the Harpswell Foundation

Harpswell in a Nutshell

We operate two dormitory and leadership centers for university women in Phnom Penh that provide free housing and food, leadership training, and critical thinking skills to some of the brightest and most ambitious young women in Cambodia while they are attending universities. Our students attend 20 different universities in Phnom Penh. After our second year of operation, our students were first in their class at most of the major universities in Phnom Penh. As of Fall 2015, we have 103 graduates, beginning with the class of 2010, and 79 current students. Our graduates are working as lawyers in law firms, as project managers in NGOs, as journalists, as financial managers, as staff in the government ministries, as teachers, and as business entrepreneurs. About 35 of our graduates have received scholarships for post-graduate study abroad, including 26 to the U.S. Our graduates have formed a Harpswell Alumnae Association so that they may stay in touch with each other, help each other get jobs, mentor the current students, and constantly reinforce the mission of Harpswell. Our alumnae are becoming a powerful wave that will help move Cambodia into the future.

The Harpswell Foundation is an American based 501c3 tax-exempt organization, classified by the IRS as a private operating charity, with a mission to provide education, housing, and leadership training to young women in the developing world. Harpswell is completely supported by donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations. In May of 2007, we became an officially registered Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) in Cambodia.

Studies by the World Bank and other international organizations have shown that educating and empowering girls and women is the single most effective way to aid developing countries. As described in Nicholas Kristof's and Sheryl Wudunn's new book Half the Sky , women around the world, discriminated against and marginalized, are not the problem but the solution to poverty, lack of education, lack of health care, lack of community. The Harpswell Foundation is dedicated to improving the condition of women and the societies they live in by promoting women's education and leadership.

All major projects of the Foundation so far have taken place in Cambodia, a country in desperate need after essentially all of its educated class was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. In June 2005, the Harpswell Foundation completed a four-room primary school building in the village of Tramung Chrum, about 50 miles from Phnom Penh. We maintain the school and its teachers and further have created a scholarship program in which the brightest graduating sixth graders from Tramung Chrum are sent to another village to attend secondary school. We have also helped the village develop drip irrigation farming and start a sewing business, under the direction of villager Hap Saly and Marie Eckstein in the U.S. This business will allow some of the young women in the village to remain working in the village rather than going to the garment factories near Phnom Penh and their very unpleasant living conditions.

From left to right, H.E. Ing Kantha Phavi, Cambodian Minister of Women's Affairs; H.E. Carol Rodley, American Ambassador to Cambodia; and H.E. Margaret Adamson, Australian Ambassador to Cambodia, attending the inauguration of the new Harpswell Dormitory and Leadership Center at Teuk Thla, January 16, 2010

In July 2006 the Foundation completed construction of a dormitory and leadership center for college women in Boeng Trabaek, Phnom Penh; in December 2009, we completed the second such facility in Teuk Thla, Phnom Penh. These two facilities, among the first dormitories in Cambodia, allow women from the provinces (90% of the population) to attend university by eliminating one of the major obstacles: not having a place to live in Phnom Penh. Colleges in Cambodia do not provide housing for their students. Male students can live in the Buddhist temples, but female students cannot. For this reason, many women from rural areas are prevented from receiving higher education. The dormitory and leadership center at Boeng Trabaek houses 36 women, the center at Teuk Thla houses 48. Our students have been selected from a wide geographical distribution on the basis of their intelligence, ambition, and leadership potential. Most of them come from poor farming families in rural areas. Despite these beginnings, our young women are now at the tops of their classes at their various universities and have received internships at some of the leading international and national NGOs and other organizations working in Cambodia.

In May 2008, the government of Cambodia awarded us the Gold Medal for humanitarian service to Cambodia. The medal was personally presented to Alan Lightman by Deputy Prime Minister Kong Sam Ol.

In January 2010, we were the cover story of the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

We have formed partnerships and exchange programs with Rhodes College, in Memphis; Bowdoin College, in Brunswick Maine; Wellesley College, in Wellesely Massachusetts; Christian Brothers University, in Memphis; and Northeastern University, in Boston. We also have partnerships with UN Women, the Global Women's Leadership Initiative, and the Cambodian Women Entrepreneur Association.

Future plans are to globalize Harpswell. Several possibilities are (1) building Harpswell-like facilities in other countries, (2) exchanging students with other countries, (3) participating in international conferences on the empowerment and advancement of women, and (4) creating a two-month summer Institute in women's leadership, with participants from countries in Southeast Asia and an international faculty.

Of course, we will continue to strengthen our work in Cambodia. We will continue to develop workshops and conferences on the subject of women's empowerment and leadership, held in the large conference room called the "Great Hall of Women" in the Harpswell facility at Teuk Thla; and we will continue to create better job opportunities and scholarships abroad for our graduating students.

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© The Harpswell Foundation 2008
last revised 9/12/16