Chenda Chhi

Chenda Chhi – Founder & Chairwoman

Chenda is originally from Cambodia. During her second year in high school, the war between the Cambodian government and the Khmer Rouge ended. The Khmer Rouge took power and began their “social cleansing” by killing anyone with an education. Cambodia suffered one of the world’s worst genocides; nearly half of its population was killed in less than four years. The Khmer Rouge soldiers took Chenda from her family as they did all children older than 12. She was forced to work in rice fields and build water dams in remote areas with little food or sleep, and no medicine or shelter with other young children. Pretending to be illiterate, with her head most often shaved, she managed to survive the executions. Most of her childhood friends, and nearly half of her close relatives were killed or died from starvation, hard labor and diseases. In her immediate family, her father and youngest brother died trying to escape the regime. In 1979, Chenda escaped the Khmer Rouge and came to the United States with her mother and sister as a refugee; she was reunited with her older two brothers who had escaped three years earlier. The Chhi family came to the U.S. with just the clothes on their backs, settling in Lincoln, Nebraska. Chenda attended high school learning English as second language and graduated with honors and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in dual majors, computer science and mathematics, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Upon her college graduation, she went to work as a computer systems analyst for Peter Kiewit and Sons, Inc. in Omaha, Nebraska. She moved to San Jose, California’s Silicon Valley, in 1988 to work as a software engineer developing test software for Heads Up Displays (HUD) at Kaiser Aerospace and Electronics Corporation (later bought by Rockwell). She left her career to be a stay-at-home mom for her three children and later went back to college to complete a degree and certification in interior design and in liberal arts at West Valley College, Saratoga, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She started her own interior design firm, Chenda Design LLC, in 2003, working on high-end custom residential projects. In 2015, she founded Coral Tree Education Foundation, Inc. and devotes tireless efforts on building the foundation to help as many children and women as she can with the support of generous corporate partners, private donors, friends and family.

Before starting Coral Tree, Chenda started her philanthropic work in Cambodia in 2005, through several other NGO’s. She has served as a Vice President of Public Relations for the Cambodian Education Excellence Foundation, and she served as an Advisor to the Harpswell Foundation and was an early major donor to the first Harpswell Dormitory for College Women. Chenda was honored to receive several Gold Medals awards from the Cambodian government of Cambodia, and was granted an audience with His Majesty King Sihamoni, and received His Majesty’s endorsement for her humanitarian work in Cambodia.