Nuon Phaly, a one-time refugee who set up an aid center on the Thai border, has been named the recipient of a prestigious Philippine award for community leadership.
The 55-year-old director of an orphanage near Pochentong Airport is the first Cambodian to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award, which is widely regarded as the Asian version of the Nobel prize, the award foundation said.
“I was very surprised when the embassy called,” said Nuon Phaly on Thursday. “I didn’t believe I won.”
Nuon Phaly worked as a secretary in the Finance Ministry in the early 1970s and joined the thousands who fled to a refugee camp on the Thai border in 1981. At the camp she joined a research project documenting the experiences of women traumatized under the Khmer Rouge regime.
This inspired Nuon Phaly and her husband, Hem Soeun, to open their house in Site II camp in 1985 to refugees suffering from depression, providing counseling to women and orphans.
Nuon Phaly returned to Cambodia in 1993 and re-established her center a year later in Phnom Penh’s Chaom Chau commune. The Future Light Orphanage opened officially in 1995.
The orphanage, Nuon Phaly said, is now home to more than 150 children ranging in age from 5 to 16, who study and receive vocational training, including weaving and sewing.
The orphanage’s latest project is to provide computer training and Internet access.
The orphanage receives funding from several organizations, including Japan Relief for Cambodia, which is also the NGO that supports The Cambodia Daily.
Nuon Phaly said she also pays home visits to women and counsels those who are depressed or might be victims of domestic violence.
“When they understand their rights clearly, they aren’t afraid [of their husbands] again,” Nuon Phaly said.
The Magsaysay award is named after a popular Philippine president who died in a plane crash in 1957.
Nuon Phaly is the third recipient of the award this year. Recipients will receive a gold medallion during the formal ceremony in Manila on Aug 31.