Lightman began doing charity work in Cambodia after becoming friends with a minister who had asked to use Lightman's novel Einstein's Dreams in a sermon. While on one such trip, Lightman learned that many women don't pursue a college education because they don't have a safe place to stay.
"The women started coming up to us, holding their babies, and said, 'Please help us build a school,' " he told the Globe. "I was just amazed that in this remote village with no electricity, no plumbing, no toilets, they were talking about education. . . . I was overwhelmed by their courage and their ability to think in the long term."
With donations from friends and family, Lightman built Harpswell Foundation Dormitory for University Women in Phnom Penh. The building is named for Harpswell, Maine, where Lightman spends summers.
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