Macy Galvan ’13 has been selected as Bowdoin’s first Leadership Resident for the Harpswell Foundation, meaning she will live in a women’s dormitory in Phnom Penh this summer with Cambodian university students and offer them English classes, mentoring and other services.
The Harpswell Foundation was founded in 2003 by Alan Lightman, a physicist, author and MIT humanities professor, to help Cambodian girls who grow up in rural provinces obtain a university education.
In 2011, the Harpswell Foundation partnered with Bowdoin College to send two of its Cambodian students to Brunswick and one Bowdoin student to Cambodia. Marady Kith and Kalyan Yim, who have undergraduate degrees in law and psychology, respectively, have been studying at Bowdoin since September.
Galvan was chosen in a competitive process to live in one of two city dormitories for women built by the Harpswell Foundation. “It’s kind of like a proctor role at Bowdoin,” Galvan explained. Besides teaching her Cambodian roommates English, she will lead current-events seminars with them by reading international newspapers and analyzing world issues. And she will help them find jobs, she said.
This work is important because poor girls in Cambodia’s countryside have little hope of attending one of the country’s universities, most of which are in the capital, Phnom Penh. While boys can shelter in Buddhist temples, girls are not allowed to, and there are few other affordable options for them. It is not unheard of for female students to sleep in muddy crawl spaces below buildings while they earn their degrees — but it is more common that they simply don’t get educated.
The Harpswell Foundation is trying to erode this disadvantage for girls. The charity has built Phnom Penh’s first two dormitories for women, which together house more than 80 female students. Most of these women have been selected from village schools based on their academic and leadership potential. After inviting the women to the program, the foundation provides them with tuition, food stipends, medical care, 24-hour security, support staff and leadership training.
Galvan is already prepared for this international experience in some ways, because last summer she received a Global Citizens Grant from the McKeen Center for the Common Good to teach English and photography to students in a slum school in Faridabad, New Delhi in India. While there, she developed the school’s first library by collecting, indexing and cataloging donated books. She will help develop Harpswell Foundation’s library this summer, she said.
Galvan was chosen from a small but strong candidate pool for this opportunity by Margaret Hazlett, senior associate dean of student affairs; Cara Martin-Tetreault, director of sponsored research, dean for academic affairs; and Christine Wintersteen, director of international programs and off-campus study. Wintersteen says the committee felt Galvan was the right fit because of her academic background in Gender and Women Studies as well as her service experiences both domestically and abroad. Galvan’s a current McKeen Fellow, and last year led an Alternative Spring Break trip to Florida, where she and other Bowdoin students worked with migrant farm workers.
Galvan said she was attracted to the Harpswell program because she likes the idea of working with women her own age and discovering a new part of the world. And she’s committed to giving back. “If I didn’t have the support network of coaches and teachers, I wouldn’t be at Bowdoin,” she said, speaking personally. “It’s critical that people have support networks to succeed. We think we can do it on our own, but we can’t.”
Galvan is an emancipated minor who has been on her own since 16. She grew up in Ventura, Calif., the youngest of three siblings living with a single mother. When Galvan turned 16, her mother decided “her job was done,” Galvan said, and left her daughter to fend for herself. Galvan got by with the help of teachers, coaches, family and friends, and did whatever she had to do — babysit, grade papers, chores. Galvan and her mother haven’t spoken in more than two years. “Getting to Bowdoin was a victory,” she said.
Coming from this background, Galvan is sensitive to the hardships of others. She said, “It’s important to me to capitalize on this opportunity [of being at Bowdoin] and to give back to communities that are impoverished.”
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, and has struggled to overcome devastating genocide. More than three decades after the Khmer Rouge massacred almost all the educated class in Cambodia, the country is still building up its infrastructure and educational system. Part of the Harpswell Foundation’s mission to is to train young women to become leaders who can help heal and strengthen their nation.
Lightman has asked the dormitory’s resident leaders, of which there will be five including Galvan, to serve as role models for the young Cambodian women. “During your stay, please try to spend time with each student on an individual basis. Inspire them with your own life story. Tell them of your travels. Share with them your own hopes and dreams. Motivate them with your own commitment to serving others less advantaged. Help develop in them a large view of the world, a sense of the power of women, a passion for helping others, a desire to become leaders of their country,” he writes.
This mission strikes a chord with Galvan. “I’m really excited to meet these women in a country that’s experienced a lot of devastation,” she said. “Their drive to be in this program, leave home and better themselves is very similar to my own drive.”