Our Team

BrightStart staff is on the ground and on the move in Battambang. Their love for the children and their passion to serve them shines because of their love for God and His children.


Program Director

Bun SoVann Chhun, pictured here with board member Jennifer Thrall of Apprentissage BrightStart Canada, has been with us since the beginning in 2011 and is still our lead teacher. SoVann also serves as the pastor of Battambang Friends Church.


Residence Director and Teacher

Pisey Kim (better known as Kimmey) helped BrightStart for several years as a bilingual instructor at our study centers and Sunday Schools. In addition to teaching, in 2016 she became the residence director of our Christian dormitory for girls, the Mary Blackwell Scholarship Home.

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Program Directors - Local


After several years as BrightStart volunteers, Katie and Sat Kirschner-An officially joined our staff in January 2018. They are focusing on visiting teams, soccer ministry, Sunday School leadership and a Women's Learning and Wellness Center.


Program Advisor

Puthe Chhum joined BrightStart's staff in June 2018 to continue improving the quality of education of our students, including curriculum development and teacher training.


Our Teachers

BrightStart is a competitive and well-paying employer in Battambang. Our Khmer teachers are qualified and experienced educators, dedicated to providing high quality lessons to our many students in Kindergarten through Grade 12. We provide special attention to our Grade 9 and 12 students with national examination requirements. All BrightStart teachers are degreed educators or are certified in their course of instruction. Most of our educators have served extensively in Cambodian public and private schools in the same respective grades for which they are providing remedial instruction at BrightStart study centers.

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Co-Founders and Board of Directors

Vernon and Gwen Higaki co-founded BrightStart with their close friends Mark and Judy Borlin in October 2011 after several church mission trips to Cambodia together. The Higakis are both retired executives of FirstEnergy Corporation in Akron, OH. Vernon is currently the owner of InnovaCorp, specializing in consulting services to nuclear power utilities. The Higakis are very active in their home church, Western Reserve Church of Macedonia, OH and its missions committee.

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Co-Founders and Board of Directors

Mark and Judy Borlin co-founded BrightStart with their close friends Vernon and Gwen Higaki in October 2011 after several church mission trips to Cambodia together. Mark is the owner of The Hardware Exchange in Solon, OH. Judy specializes in partner service and development for agencies helping their clients use mobile, web and frontier technologies. The Borlins are very active in their home church, Journey Church of Twinsburg, OH.

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Member, Board of Directors

Scott McCain is the main owner of the Emergency Planning Technical Consultants, Inc. and has over 25 years' experience in emergency planning for nuclear power utilities and fuel processing facilities. He has served as a board member of the Green Harvest Food Pantry, which serves the working poor in the cities of Aurora, Montgomery, Naperville, Oswego, Plainfield, and Yorkville in Illinois. Scott is very active in his home church, New Life Church of Idaho Falls, ID. The study of reformed and dispensational theology and their history has become his personal passion.

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Executive Director

Gwen Higaki led her church's pioneer trip to Battambang, Cambodia in 2009 and her life was forever changed. In May 2011, she left FirstEnergy Corporation to make her calling a reality. Gwen serves as BrightStart's President and Executive Director. Gwen is also vice-president of Apprentissage BrightStart Canada, an approved Canadian non-profit and sister charity to BrightStart USA. In 2017, Gwen was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dewey International University in Battambang, Cambodia, recognizing her contributions to advance the school's international studies program and providing scholarship assistance to economically disadvantaged students.