27 January 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Seeking Excellence (PEPY’s new Director)

I know that I started this blog intending for it to be separate from PEPY, but since my life and PEPY are intertwined, that is sometimes impossible!

Here is a letter I recently wrote to many of PEPY’s supporters which I thought I would share:


Hi PEPY Family –

I am writing today to let you know that after Layheng’s first three days we already know we have made a fabulous decision (actually, we were sure after the first hour when she wowed our team talking about her personal philosophies and goals).  Picking a leader to manage PEPY’s programs long into the future was a daunting task.  Finding people with high level management skills is always a challenge, but in our case, we also needed to find someone with the heart that is necessary to continue the PEPY culture. We needed someone from Cambodia who is dedicated to improving their own country’s educational offerings but who also has seen examples of highly successful educational programs around the world to be able to set the bar high. We needed someone who was in a time in their life to be able to put their full energy and heart into growing our team, our organization, and our impact yet who had the wisdom and managerial experience to balance logic with passion.  We needed someone who believes that reaching communal goals means investing in each team member to reach their personal goals, who is a joy to be around, who cares about those around them, and who believes in their own ability to be a leader for positive change.  We needed someone named Layheng, and we found her.

We have been looking for Khmer leadership for more than two years, and after going through more than 100 applications and dozens of interviews, last year we were nearly ready to settle for someone who could “get the job done”. Having spent the last five years here in Cambodia with my heartstrings tied to each member of our team and the goals we see possible in the future of our organization, it was hard to think about handing this over to someone pretty great when we were looking for exceptional.  Last July, when I was in the US, I had the chance to interview Layheng Ting who had applied for the director role at PEPY.  I knew within a half-hour that our baby, PEPY, had a new mother.  I had never met anyone more dedicated to returning to their country to be a force for positive change.

Dr. Ting recently successfully defended her dissertation after having spent the last five years in the US getting a Masters and then PhD in the education fields, initially traveling to the US on a Fulbright Scholarship.  She was offered many jobs in the US and she could have successfully stayed in the US earning an impressive income for many years to come.  But, as she says, she was only in the US to gain the skills she needed to return home to her country to improve education here. She comes from a family that highly values education, and we are grateful to her parents for raising Layheng with the conviction and commitment to Cambodia and its education system.

We are ecstatic that Layheng has chosen to lead our organization into the future, and we can’t wait to keep you up to date on all of the improvements and growth she helps us achieve in the future.  In the meantime, I can’t help but have the world’s biggest smile on my face as I realized that indeed, it is worth the wait for someone exceptional.

Thanks for being part of our team to get us to where we are today.

Hugs and love from an ecstatic team in Cambodia!

– Daniela

Side note addition which should make you smile: For those of you who engaged in the debate two years ago as to whether we should send four students to the US for summer camp, you know that we decided to pursue this with the idea that we thought the potential positives would outweigh the potential negatives, but we were unsure as to “when” those outcomes might show.  Today Layheng and I were able to witness one of the most amazing results of this and all of our work at PEPY.  Through the culmination of the Child to Child program inspiring young leaders to take responsibility for their own community, fabulous English and Creative Learning Class teachers inspiring a desire to learn and share, and a young boy who returned from the US and started teaching English in his community has sprung an NGO and community action group completely powered by these students.  On their own – independently of PEPY support, a group of students decided to emulate the English teaching student and they started VCD – Volunteers for Community Development.  They made their own website (in Khmer and in English http://yvcd.wordpress.com/) and raised their own money in their community.  They each paid 5000 reil (about $1.25) to join the club and to sign up to be a teacher.  The students in the community who want to study had to pay a one time fee of 1000 reil to help buy the white board, markers, etc.  There are now 54 members of VCD and what started as 500 kids in their 12 nightly classes has now turned to 20 classes each night, 5 nights per week, with over 700 students.  The VCD team, made up of 7th-12th graders around the age of 16 has a manager, a monitoring team, a designer, fundraisers, etc.  They have teachers assigned to each class, and also “rotating teachers” responsible for ensuring the quality of the classes is high throughout the commune.  They also take turns working in the VCD office which was originally under a family’s home like the rest of the classes but is now in a spare room next to the commune chiefs office as he has donated the space.  They no longer just teach English – they do recycling and garbage collection throughout the commune near their homes, they have done plays and fundraiser to repair a local gate, etc.  They are the most phenomenal group of young people I have ever met – and I am just blown away by what they are doing and HOW they are doing it.  This group, along with Layheng, will do some powerful things well into the future.  Thank you all for being a part of PEPY and making this possible!