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.
Farida Mot, Controller
Farida has been helping out as an unpaid volunteer since she was 17 years old. As our controller Farida is the #1 Go-to Girl, managing compliance, rosters, invoices, supply requests and every other imaginable administrative detail for all of our projects.
Farida is from Phnom Penh and holds a Bachelor Degree in Tourism from the National University of Management. She is currently studying towards a Masters degree in Business Administration at the National University of Management. She also has won gold, silver and bronze metals at the Cambodia National Karatedo Championship for two years.
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”.
Sokha Khoun, Student Counselor
Sokha grew up in Siem Reap Province. Her working career started with PLF when she graduated from The PLF Urban Computer Lab and took the helm of the Media Project. During this time Sokha attended and graduated from a Social Work course from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Sokha’s current role sees her helping PLF to be of better support to its students and the community through student interviews, counselling, and workshops. She also works closely with Graham, our Tertiary Education Director, to manage the needs of our scholarship students in High School, University, and Vocational Training.
When it comes to education Sokha knows all about the struggles students face in Cambodia. She wasn’t able to start first grade until she was 12 years old because her house was too far from the school. Her determination led her to begin Grade 1 when she was 12 years old, and she successfully finished High School at the age of 26. She frequently tells students today that it’s never too late to learn, and received her Diploma of English at Pannasastra University in 2016. She is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree at Build Bright University in Siem Reap.
Vannak Los, Field Director
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 currently in her second year of studying at Pannasastra University towards a degree in English Literature.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Davis, Board Member
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.
Cassie Gravett, Communications Officer
In March 2012, Cassie stopped in Siem Reap on what was supposed to be a three day visit and instantly fell in love with the country and its people. Three days was quickly extended and Cassie spent 6 years owning and running one of Siem Reap’s best-known cafes, Sister Srey Cafe, with her sister. The sisters and the cafe have been good friends of PLF since their arrival. Once the sisters decided to leave Cambodia, Cassie spent a year travelling the globe before moving back to Australia. She now lives in Melbourne, Australia and visits Siem Reap for a few months each year.
Cassie joined our International team in 2018 as Communications Officer. She oversees all our social media, keeps our website looking fresh and helps the team stay connected with the PLF extended family worldwide.
Jaskiran Dhillon, University Partner
Jaskiran joins PLF as our (volunteer) university partner to help carry out fundraising projects, and research support. She’s an Assistant Professor of Education Studies and Anthropology at the New School University in New York. She approaches her work with a desire to bring an ethnographic sensibility to the study of the unique relationship among education, politics, and society, and to apply her knowledge to contemporary problems around the globe.
She is passionate about teaching and invites her students to pursue an intellectual journey that locates issues of power, knowledge, epistemology, place, culture, and history at the center of theoretical and empirical inquiries into education, broadly conceived.
In an effort to bring conceptual ideas and theories into conversation with everyday lived realities on the ground, she has piloted a civic engagement course with PLF in Cambodia during the summer 2012 to explore the politics of education and development.