Ponheary Ly, Founder
After surviving the Khmer Rouge regime, Ponheary returned to Siem Reap with what was left of her family. They had lost everything, including her father, an educator. Her family was thrown into a post-genocidal poverty that lasted a decade. During the time of the Vietnamese installed regime, Ponheary became a teacher and in secret learned how to speak French and English. She was sent to Moscow to learn Russian during the occupation.
In 1998 when Cambodia once again opened up to Westerners, Ponheary, being by then trilingual, became a much sought-after tour guide. During her rounds at the temples, and as tourism grew, she began seeing more and more children, out working instead of going to school. The teacher in Ponheary forced her to investigate.
She began leveraging her relationship with those who toured with her and started a project to support the return of rural children back to school and help them stay there. To do what she could to help the teachers, to provide encouragement and some food here and there. And so it all began.
In 2016 she was awarded the World of Children Education Award. In 2010 she was recognized as a CNN Hero, which highlights the stories of “everyday people changing the world”. Ponheary believes that everyday people are the only ones who can.
Lori Carlson, President
Ponheary’s compelling personal story and her work on behalf of the children in her community inspired Lori greatly when she first met her in 2005 as a tourist to Angkor Wat. She registered the Ponheary Ly Foundation upon her return to the US after their time together in Cambodia working in rural schools in order to broaden Ponheary’s work. In 2007 she left her career in the publishing business to come to Cambodia and work full time with Ponheary and her family.
Christin Spoolstra, Operations Director
Christin first arrived in Cambodia in 2011 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, intending to stay only two years before attending law school. But, after living with a Cambodian host family and working within the public schools here, Christin felt she couldn’t go back to the US knowing that her nieces and nephews from her host family would grow up not having access to a quality education. Instead, Christin extended a third year with Peace Corps followed by four years with another education NGO before joining the PLF team as Operations Director in January 2019. As OD, Christin oversees all operations, continually refining them and measuring impact, by working closely with all our field staff and supporting them in our mission of promoting education.
Originally from Valparaiso, Indiana, Christin has a BA in Political Science and English Literature and is currently pursuing her MEd in Globalization and Educational Change from Lehigh University.
Sherry Trailor, Accounting & HR
Sherry oversees our human resources, accounting, and finances. She has over twenty-five years experience in HR, management, diplomacy and even forensic sciences. In fact, her first visit to Cambodia was in 2009 during her sabbatical as a Senior Crime Scene Investigator in the UK. Sherry comes to PLF from the British Embassy, where she served as the Cambodian Honorary Consul in Siem Reap.
When she’s not crunching the numbers, Sherry is leading our Chess program, following sports, or building her collection of Minions, the bespectacled yellow henchmen from the movie “Despicable Me”.
Vannak Los, Life Skills Training & Student Counsellor
Vannak is the field director for Tchey and Wat Bo Primary Schools, Khnart Secondary School, and the Siem Reap Girls Dormitory. She oversees all PLF projects at these three schools and liaises between school administrations and PLF HQ. She is also closely involved with Sokha in developing and leading workshops.
A tireless advocate for girls’ education, Vannak and is the only person in her family of 9 to have studied beyond Grade 8. She marched into our office in 2013 to ask for help finishing Grade 12, and was awarded a PLF university scholarship shortly upon graduating from high school as one of our top scholars. She is about to graduate from Pannasastra University with a degree in English Literature.
Graham Smith, Tertiary Education Director
Graham was born and brought up in Scotland, UK. After graduating from University with a 1st class Masters Degree in Chemistry, Graham traveled to Cambodia to volunteer as an English teacher in a rural school for several months. He returned to Cambodia a further 3 times over the next few years before deciding to move permanently to Siem Reap to work with PLF.
Graham is in charge of all tertiary education programs for our students, including high school, vocational training, university, and assistance with workplace preparation. He keeps track of all high school test scores and organizes tutoring, scholarship, food bank, and leadership programs for our high school students. He also manages the Boys Dormitory in Siem Reap.
Sothea Et, Field Director
Sothea is the field director for PLF projects at Preah Vihear Province: Koh Ker Primary School, Romchek Primary School and the Srayang Dormitory.
He has a military background from serving as a medic in the Cambodian Armed Forces. After 5 years in the services Sothea left and joined CMAC, a mine clearance organisation where he worked for the next 15 years. He was promoted during this time, firstly to a Field Medic and then into a Medical Officer role.
Sothea gained his great English skills from attending the ACE (Australian Center for English) in Siem Reap. He lives with his wife and daughter in Siem Reap and commutes to Srayang during the week.
Theada Seak, Field Director
Theada is the field director for the Khnar Village Learning Center, coordinating and overseeing every program from Breakfast to Ukulele to computer classes. She first joined the team to support us with data entry and very quickly earned her place as a field director.
Theada is orginally from Battambang Province, and moved to Siem Reap to live with extended members of her family so that she could continue to receive an education. She was selected as a PLF scholar after graduating as a top student in her class in secondary school.
Theada graduated from Vanda Institute with a degree in Accounting in 2019.
Hub Chhay Administrative Officer
Hub started with PLF in 2019 as our Administration Officer. She’s the one in charge of organising all the reports coming in from our Field Directors to keep data collection up-to-date on almost 3,000 students, as well as liaising with various Ministries in Phnom Penh to keep our Cambodian reporting up to date and doing PLF reporting to the Ministries of Labor and Taxation. Hub grew up around the Angkor Area and spent her spare time volunteering teaching English. She graduated from South East Asia University with a Degree in Accounting then was awarded a Scholarship at Djurakit Punit University (DPU) in Thailand where she received a Masters degree in Businesses Management. In her spare time Hub loves going on adventures and getting lost in a good book!
Sothy Soun, Field Director
Sothy started as a scholarship student with PLF in 2006 and then joined the team as an English teacher in 2013. Since 2019 he is working as the Chey Field Director and also supporting the Boys Dorm. In this role, he oversees all PLF projects at the schools in that area and liaises between school administrations and PLF HQ.
Sothy is originally from rural Khnat Village in Siem Reap. Sothy has three siblings and is the only one in his family to have gone to university. He graduated with his BA in International Relations in 2017. Now he is continuing his English course at ACE and is looking forward to pursuing a master degree in the future.
Samnang Eam, Administrative Officer
Samnang is our Administrator Officer. He oversees all our purchasing and budgeting and is currently in the process of streamlining all our purchasing at 9 locations across 2 provinces. Prior to joining our team Samnang worked for an NGO as a Social Worker and Administrator.
Moving forward, his social work experience will help us to expand our support networks for our ever-growing tertiary programs, workshops and family counseling.
Samnang spends his spare time with his family, he also enjoys cycling and meditation.
Socheat Kuon, Field Director
Kuon Socheat was born in Siem Reap province and currently lives in Srayang village, Preah Vihear Province. Previously, He worked as a food and beverage manager in a hotel in Siem Reap. For the last four years, he has been a contract teacher at Koh Ker Primary School and also taught English to grade 6.
Socheat graduated from Angkor University with a degree in Business Administration. He is excited to be our new Field Director, working at all three PLF projects in Preah Vihear Province, in Koh Ker, Romchek and Srayang.
In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing volleyball and helping his wife sell in their shop at Srayang.
Sotheara Ly, IT Manager
Sotheara is the head instructor in our Siem Reap IT lab. She is Ponheary’s sister and lives together with the family at 7 Candles Guesthouse. She has participated in PLF’s work for several years as “Chief Cook of Many Lunches at School”, and she is now putting her computer skills to use for the Foundation. Sotheara has been deaf since age 14 but speaks English, Thai, French and her mother tongue fluently although she has never been to school or been taught in formal classes. She has a deep understanding of what it means to be denied an education and her work with the students contains interesting perspectives on what it means to be disabled in Cambodia.
Kate Allen, Communications Officer
Kate first came to Cambodia as a traveler in 2012 and knew straight away she wanted to live and work here, returning as a newly-qualified TESOL teacher in 2013. After teaching for two years, she moved to a large Siem Reap NGO, developing and managing a social enterprise as part of their community outreach program, which offered skills development and employment opportunities to marginalized Khmer women.
In her previous life in the UK, she worked for 12 years in the television industry on factual and documentary programming. Stepping into the role of Communications Officer therefore combines her love of creating engaging content with her experience of the Cambodian educational and social contexts, to effectively share and highlight PLF’s mission and impact.
Sophean Ley, Bookkeeper
Sophean is from Kralanh district in Siem Reap province. She has five siblings and is the only one who graduated from university, gaining a scholarship from PEPY Empowering Youth NGO. In 2019, she graduated from the Vanda Institute of Accounting and worked as an accountant at a private company for four years.
She joined us in November 2021 as our Bookkeeper, and is quickly becoming a QuickBooks aficionado, keeping all our accounting and taxation paperwork in order and up to date, as well as many other tasks as requested by our Admin & Operations teams.
In her free time, she loves researching new subjects, as well as drawing, sports, and traveling.
Sharon Miro, Board Secretary
Sharon has held a variety of executive positions in magazines, newspapers and sales organizations and is newly retired after 30 years in the business. She has a strong sense for marketing and networking and frequently travels to Siem Reap to spend time on the ground.
Nina is a Craniosacral Therapist and Lymph Drainage Therapist in Austin, Texas. She received her Masters degree from the University of North Texas in 1986 and has served as Treasurer on the Board of Directors for the PLF since 2006.
Advisory Board Member
Caroline & the Stafford clan first traveled to Cambodia in July of 2007 – Ponheary, a tour guide at the time, accompanied the Staffords to Angkor Wat.
From that day, Caroline & the Staffords felt deeply compelled to support Ponheary’s vision. Over the years volunteering for PLF, Caroline has taught English & Science at the dormitory, helped set up a “Careers Fair” & even staged a production of Peter Pan with students at Tchey!
As COVID hit, Caroline stepped up into a new role as resident Peer-to-Peer Coach/Advisor. In the last year she’s set in motion our Birthday Club initiative — crafting a handy fundraising guide & supporting over 20+ advocates in setting up campaigns. Caroline also set in motion PLF’s first Google Ad Grants account and broadened the organization’s reach, generating over 1,000 site impressions in the first 8 months.
Caroline was thrilled to join PLF’s Board in 2022. As she also heads to business school, she can’t wait to bring her new skillset and experiences to drive strategic decision-making & support PLF’s future growth.
Advisory Board Member
Cas moved to Siem Reap in 2012 and started a social enterprise cafe in town called Sister Srey with her sister. Her career with PLF began in 2018 when she became our Communications Officer after selling her cafe. Her stay with us lasted four years until she moved back to Australia. Cas holds a degree in International and Community Development and has experience working in multinational teams in the international aid and not-for-profit sector. This experience has given her a unique perspective on dynamic situations and a deeper appreciation for ethical, socially responsible, and sustainable practices. Cas has been a member of our Board of Directors since 2022.