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Ponhary Ly received a World of Children Award in New York last week. Photo supplied
Ponhary Ly received a World of Children Award in New York last week. Photo supplied

Pioneering child advocate honoured on a global stage

Ponheary Ly, the pioneering founder of the Ponheary Ly Foundation in Siem Reap, was in New York last week to collect the 2016 Education Award from the World of Children Award, a globally recognised honour and funding program for those specifically and exclusively serving the needs of children. 

According to the World of Children Award website, the awards honour leaders and grants funds to support proven, high-impact programs. The award for education recognises individuals making extraordinary contributions to the schooling of children, providing them with the platform to become fully productive members of society.

The awards – which are akin to a Nobel Prize for child advocacy – are given only to those who have worked with their organisations for at least 10 years for little or no pay. The event raised $850,000 to advance the causes of this year’s honourees. 

Ponheary Ly, formerly a teacher and tour guide, began supporting children with her own money in the late 1990s. In 2005, she founded the Ponheary Ly Foundation with the support of Texan Lori Carlson, who is now the Ponheary Ly Foundation’s president, and who also travelled to New York for the Park Avenue ceremony.

The award was given in recognition for the support that Ponheary Ly provides to more than 2,500 children in Siem Reap and Preah Vihear provinces, assisting them with school fees, uniforms, materials, meals and other services that ensure they get to school and stay there. Since the Foundation was formed, Ponheary Ly and her team have been able to help nearly 8,000 children access education.

The foundation has just begun awarding university scholarships for academic achievers, and they soon hope to expand the program to students from the community.

“I was so excited to see Ponheary get some recognition for the work she has done so quietly for the last 15 years,” Carlson says of the award, which came with $80,000 in funding. She says the funds will be used to supply 2,800 students with materials and uniforms for the next three years.

But the award’s value goes deeper, helping to affirm credibility for the foundation’s work, Carlson says.

“In our day-to-day work in Cambodia, we are very isolated. Potential donors have difficulty understanding how credible we are on first glance. World of Children did heavy vetting on our organisation before giving the award, so we hope that the award will represent a level of credibility we didn’t have before,” she says.

Ponheary, who survived the Khmer Rouge regime, was also made a CNN Hero in 2010 for her work. 

Siem Reap has a good track record with World of Children Awards. In 2014, photographer Kenro Izu received the Health Award for his work founding Friends Without A Border, the organisation behind the Angkor Hospital for Children, while Benoît Duchâteau-Arminjon received the Humanitarian Award in 2012 for Krousar Thmey, the organisation he founded to provide support for deaf or blind children, including the creation of a Khmer Braille and sign-language system.

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