Harpswell Foundation

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Harpswell Foundation
FounderDr. Alan Lightman
TypeNon profit
Legal status501(c)3 nonprofit; private operating foundation; Cambodia NGO
PurposeGirls education, women's leadership
  • Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Southeast Asia
Key people
Board Chair: Alan Lightman Executive Director: Alison Pavia

Harpswell Foundation (Harpswell) is an international nonprofit organization with a mission to equip young women in Southeast Asia with leadership skills, education, and a supportive network.[1] Harpswell was founded in 2005 by Dr. Alan Lightman.[2]


During a trip to Cambodia in 2003, Lightman met a young woman who shared her story of living in a crawl space under a university building while studying in Phnom Penh in the mid-1990s.Male university students were able to live for free in Buddhist temples or pagodas, while female students were forced to find housing of their own, which many could not afford or were unsafe. Lightman was inspired to eliminate this major obstacle to tertiary education and gender equality. In 2006, Harpswell completed construction of a dormitory and leadership center for college women in Boeng Trabaek, Phnom Penh. In 2009, Harpswell completed a second facility in Teuk Thla, Phnom Penh. In 2017, Harpswell extended its work beyond Cambodia and began a leadership training program, based in Penang, Malaysia, for young women from all ten countries in Southeast Asia and Nepal.

Cambodia Program


The facilities in Boeng Trabaek “BT Dorm” and Teuk Thla “TT Dorm” house up to 80 young Cambodian women at any time.[3] The two facilities are among the first dormitories in Cambodia for university students and are the first dormitories devoted exclusively to women.[4] They are not associated with any single university. Housing and food are provided at no cost to students.[5]


Students come from most of the provinces of Cambodia, the majority from impoverished rural areas where educational growth opportunities are lacking.[6][7] During the selection process, Harpswell visits about 50 high schools in provinces throughout Cambodia. Students are selected based on leadership potential, high school transcripts, and scores on the national high school examination. They must also show leadership potential and commit to making a difference in Cambodia to gain admission.[8]

In-House Curriculum

Harpswell provides an in-house academic program that students attend in the evenings and weekends when they are not attending their regular university classes.[7] These in-house classes, emphasize critical thinking, leadership skills, civic engagement, and analysis of national and international news. The students are also required to take English classes.[2]

Alumnae Programs

Harpswell U.S. Fellows

Harpswell provides limited scholarships for graduates to study in the United States for one year with partner colleges and universities.Harpswell U.S. Fellows have attended Bowdoin College, Bard College, Northeastern University, Agnes Scott College, Rhodes College and Christian Brothers University.[9][10][11] These programs aim to facilitate cultural exchange and civic engagement for both Harpswell students and the students at their host institution.

Alumnae House

In July 2018, Harpswell opened a dormitory for recent graduates as they enter the job market or attend graduate school.[12] The Alumnae House also serves as a center for alumnae gatherings and events.

ASEAN Program

In 2017, Harpswell launched the ASEAN Program in Women’s Leadership in partnership with the Center for Research on Women and Gender (KANITA) at University Sains Malaysia (USM).[13] Twenty-two young women from countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Nepal are selected each year to attend 12-days of leadership training workshops in Penang, Malaysia. Training sessions include gender studies, ASEAN society, women’s leadership, critical thinking and debate, civic engagement, and communication and technology.


In 2005, Harpswell completed its first project, a four-room primary school building in the village of Tramung Chrum. In 2009, the organization initiated three additional projects in Tramung Chrum: drip-irrigation agriculture, with improved farming methods; a sewing school; and a health care program, providing funds for transportation to medical facilities and treatment in those facilities.[14] The sewing school led to the creation of Red Dirt Road, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young women in Cambodia by providing them business and sewing skills to create, market, and sell handmade designs.[15] The revenue net profit is used to pay for educational classes and village projects.


  1. "Home". Harpswell Foundation. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wallace, Julia (2010-01-16). "A Place of Their Own". The Cambodia Daily. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  3. "Cambodian Dormitories". Harpswell Foundation. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  4. Jackson, Will; Muong, Vandy. "Women still falling off higher education ladder". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2020-10-24.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. "A DORM for transformation". Khmer Times. 2018-05-24. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  6. "Public Officials Inaugurate Harpswell Women Leaders". Khmer Times. 2014-08-16. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mullen, William. "Commentary: The story of Samneang Moul: From Cambodian refugee camp to the world stage". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  8. "Sokngim Kim". UGA Today. 2014-10-19. Retrieved 2020-12-22.
  9. "Harpswell U.S. Fellows". Harpswell Foundation. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  10. "Cambodian Students at Bowdoin for Year of Study, Civic Engagement". dailysun.bowdoin.edu. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  11. "Stepping out of the comfort zone". Khmer Times. 2018-06-14. Retrieved 2020-12-22.
  12. "Feminist Dorm Rooms Are Set to Transform Cambodia". OZY. 2018-04-06. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  13. "Q&A: Alan Lightman '70 on a Helping Home". Princeton Alumni Weekly. 2018-11-30. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  14. "Other Programs". Harpswell Foundation. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  15. "Red Dirt Road Changes Lives in Cambodia and Northern Michigan". MyNorth.com. 2016-06-30. Retrieved 2020-10-24.

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