By Travis Thompson, PLF Board of Directors
It’s been five months since I left my spot alongside Ponheary, Lori, and the Ponheary Ly Foundation team in the Siem Reap office to move back to the U.S. I’ve spent these last months trying to adjust to my new life in Seattle. The transition has been made easier as I’ve crossed paths with PLF supporters who are doing their part to share with their communities in the U.S. the importance of our work in Cambodia.
PLF advocate Sarah Gordon, who’s spent two summers working in Cambodia at PLF schools, invited me to join her massive outreach event in Portland, Oregon. Sarah led the planning and launch of the Oregon GirlUp Summit, which focuses on engaging American teenagers on issues that impact education and young women in developing countries. I jumped at the chance to go.
The last time I’d seen Sarah was when I was standing next to her in Cambodia last summer as she spent six weeks working with us at PLF. As I stood next to Sarah in Cambodia my biggest dream for her, or any other volunteer that I came in contact with, was for them to leave having shifted their own view of the world. I dreamed that they would take their new perspective home with them to help make change where problems in this world often start, the privileged countries we come from.
During my years in Cambodia, I heard stories of western visitors going home and raising awareness of our projects in Koh Ker, Knar, and Tchey. But, when I saw this type of PLF advocacy for the first time in-person through Sarah’s GirlUp Summit, it really hit me how powerful we become just by sharing our own stories and experiences after we return home.
Sarah pulled into her event a wide range of speakers and students from different corners of the U.S. and even some students from Brazil. The topics and discussions were also wide-ranging, covering many different developing countries. I sat and spoke on a panel about what it’s like to work on education projects in a developing country. Of course I spent hours talking and answering questions about PLF and all we do.
To round out my time seeing PLF advocacy in action, another PLF volunteer, Victoria Balenger, showed up to the event. Victoria spent weeks living in Koh Ker as one of our first volunteers at Koh Ker Primary School.
Spending so much time in the U.S. talking with people I’d only ever met in Cambodia made me homesick for Southeast Asia, but it also reminded me just how important our shared time in Cambodia is. All of us can make an impact just by talking and rallying with those around us at home.
Both Sarah and Victoria are headed back to Cambodia to volunteer with PLF in the coming months. I’m sending them with a long, long list of people to deliver hugs to.