Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Cambodian genocide survivor speaks about his experiences

<tim and survivor of the Cambodian genocide, otherwise known as the “killing fields of Cambodia,” that occurred in the late 1970’s, Arn Chorn Pond delivered a convocation speech Friday May 6. The speech focused on the importance of community building and emotional healing in promoting peace and preventing violence. He devoted the first half of the talk to describing his own personal experiences as a child losing his family to the Khmer Rouge Communist Party that took over the country. His childhood was dominated by suffering and indoctrination forced upon him by the dictatorship, which at first was “welcomed and cheered upon by the Cambodian people” when they came to power in 1975. He recalled the Buddhist temple he stayed in as a young boy being converted into a killing ground, where political executions and forced labor of young children took place.

The conditions were harsh and inhumane. Pond said it was not uncommon to “go for two weeks with no food – you could see kids dying in the mud fields.” He and other children were sometimes asked to push corpses into graves; their captors trained them to become desensitized to the acts of humanity of the dictatorship. Pond said he “could no longer smell the blood anymore: I had shut myself off completely.” His survival owed to the fact that he could play revolutionary songs on the flute for the soldiers, for he knew that otherwise they “would have gone after” him. He illustrated that because his skin was naturally lighter than that of other Cambodians, it meant he was “from a middle-class, and therefore pro-American.” Pond suffered tremendously under such conditions at the temple: he mentioned how he almost “went insane during those early years.”

During the Vietnamese invasion in late 1979 that eventually ousted the Khmer Rouge from power, the soldiers forced Pond and other boys to fight on the front lines. He recalled the utter slaughter of young kids who were used as human shields: “I lost friends every day, and felt so powerless to save them.” Unable to take it any longer, Pond fled from the lines into the jungles, where he stayed for several months and barely surviving on fruits. In 1980 his future American foster father found him unconscious from malaria on the border of Thailand, immediately rescuing him and taking him back to the United States.

Pond described the additional suffering he faced during his years in North America, where the utterly foreign nature of living in a developed country posed huge obstacles for him. He was put into a foster home and recalled tensions with his foster mother as a result. “I did not understand anything; things like bathrooms,” he said. At school he was constantly teased and ridiculed because of his darker skin among the homogenous white student body, and during the time Pond contemplated running away and even suicide.

“I had survived the killing fields, but I could not survive in America,” he said. Eventually his foster father encouraged him to combat the emotional strain he had been under by telling his story, though he struggled with this at first as well. Eventually, he “learned how to cry for the first time,” and developed a mission to help others who were similar to him with similar stories. Pond expressed his wish to raise awareness of kids in other countries in conflict: “not just about genocide, but other issues such as prostitution.” In conclusion, he hoped to expand the educational awareness of growing kids, to help them “learn beyond their church, schools, and their country.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *