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Graham checking high school enrolment on Opening Day 

Graham, Tertiary Education Director

I first came to Cambodia as a volunteer in 2011 after finishing University. In 2012 I returned to the UK to take up a graduate job but always remained open to returning to Siem Reap and when I saw a job with PLF advertised in 2014 I jumped at the opportunity to move back to Cambodia permanently. 

A game of footie with students while volunteering in Siem Reap

I manage our Tertiary Education program, which involves the selection and management of our scholarship students across high school, vocational training and university. 

When I joined PLF, the program was really small, but it was obviously an area that was going to grow and grow, and they needed someone to manage that expansion. It grew slowly in the beginning, but in the last 5 years it’s really taken off. We’ve gone from having just a handful of uni students, less than 10 when I started, to now getting close to 150, as well as a big expansion in high school scholarships and our vocational training program. And for University graduates, we broke the 100 graduate barrier this year as well, so that’s a massive milestone! 

And the growth in our university program is what I’ve really loved seeing over the past 10 years because that’s what makes a real difference to our students. University is something I’m passionate about. It made a difference to me personally, and I know how important it is here in Cambodia, a university education is the real thing that improves people’s lives. That’s what gives them access to the best jobs. 

PLF’s programs in the earlier grades are modeled on supporting a whole school or a whole community. Then as students reach high school we start to make assessments – and difficult decisions – about which students to support with these scholarships. This is when we start the home visits, as it’s crucial to understand the specific family situation because there are different levels of poverty, as well as different levels of motivation and encouragement from the family. What we realize is that sometimes it’s all well and good that the students are motivated but if the families aren’t then that can affect a student’s ability to stay the course through uni. So in the home visits, we’re assessing the families as well as the students.

Graham speaks & writes Khmer fluently. Conducting student & family interviews for scholarship assessment and home visits to the villages – come rain, shine or Covid! 

In the beginning, it was just me doing all those home visits and of course, with the first batch of uni students, I got to know them so well. I’m super proud of all our students, but it was especially rewarding to see those first ones coming through because they were like pioneers. It represented a huge thing for them to go to university, but also for us as an organization. 

The home visits start in secondary school for high school scholarships, and with these also growing so much, this year we needed to do 100 visits. There’s no way I can do them all myself anymore! Now I have Vannak working with me full-time in Tertiary, and she has taken on full responsibility for these, along with Samnang who has come on board to help more on the social work side. So this past year it’s been great to see our staff grow and develop to the point where I can hand this crucial piece of work over to them and they’ve been able to do it so well. After the visits, we meet to discuss the candidates, ensure that it’s all documented correctly, and then we make the final decisions together. 

Vannak, Graham and Samnang – Tertiary Team

When I think back to when I first started at PLF, the growth of the team has been huge.

In the beginning, we were in a small office at Ponheary’s guesthouse, and there were just six of us on the team. As we grew, we had to knock through a wall to make that office bigger. Eventually, we ran out of walls! That was the point where we moved to our own location here at the Urban Learning Center. The creation of ULC has in itself meant a massive difference to our urban students, as we’ve been able to take more staff on to expand our programs here in town. One of those is IT, which I am involved in across all our locations. At ULC we’ve seen the number of students completing IT courses go up and up. And at the end of 2023, we were also able to extend the lab at Srayang Learning Center in order to offer computer classes to more students up there. So our IT program is another area of significant growth.

Training the new IT teacher at SLC

With the students I’ve worked with over the years the impact has been huge. Many of them have gone on to good jobs and have been able to support their families and that’s so important to see – their own success but also their family’s quality of life improving as well. 

What I love seeing the most is when our university graduates are then able to support their younger siblings who are still in school. There’s so many examples of our graduate students now living and working in town, having their nephews, nieces or younger siblings from the villages, come and live with them so they can really encourage them to stay in school. This means that not only are many of our PLF alumni earning good enough salaries that they can support their parents financially, but they are also encouraging their younger relatives’ education. When I see that, I’m really proud of the work that we do and of the students too because it means we’ve made the right decisions. It’s sometimes really difficult to know which students to support, and you’re thinking about this kind of thing as well – hoping that they are going to be someone who will give back to their community and improve the lives of their families. It’s about supporting the student to create a ripple effect in their communities. Seeing them actually do that is so rewarding!

Education is vitally important, especially here in Cambodia. It teaches us to question and challenge what we think we know. Education is part of the foundation of all progress and growth, both as an individual and as a society. 


You can meet more of our amazing team and read their stories on the People of PLF page!


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