My husband and I are returning for a brief visit to Cambodia, as we make our way to Laos and tour through Vietnam, so I thought I would commit a couple of posts between now and when we leave to this brave little country. Brave? You ask ……….yes brave. At least that was the impression I got within the first day or two of my last visit there back in 2009 when we were invited to a wedding and stayed for two weeks. We had intended to travel through Vietnam as well, but that never eventuated as our wonderful hosts insisted on showing us their country, its rawness, its struggles, its beauty, its compassion, its history. Through all its crazy chaos, unruliness, lack of hygiene, lack of order, Cambodia smiles at you and welcomes you with open arms, yet underneath there is a sadness about this country that will leave you with vivid memories that will last a lifetime. When we left Cambodia, I had a new respect for these people, for all they have been through they smile……. such happy smiles.
In 1975 the Khmer Rouge rebel soldiers took hold of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and making their way across the country they stripped it of everything, killing people, destroying buildings, homes, sending children to work in rice fields. They ruled for 4 years during which time 1.7 million Cambodian men, women, and children lost their lives and those who survived lived atrocious conditions.
This is one story……..
“A Song for Cambodia.”
By Michelle Lord and illustrated by Shino Arihara
This is a true story of Arn a nine year old boy who grew up in a happy carefree countryside of Cambodia. His family of 11 brothers and sisters were musical, and his days were filled with laughter and music, his father teaching operas in the evenings, until one day in 1975, an army of soldiers called the Khmer Rouge invaded and destroyed everything he had known. Schools were made into prisons, buildings destroyed, monks were silenced, there was to be no music and families were separated and sent to different work camps. Arn was made to work long hours in the paddy fields, in all weather, with little or no food, with the other children in the children’s camp, and never saw his family again. One day some children were chosen to learn to play a khim, a wooden string instrument. Because he could play well and learned fast Arn was allowed to play while the other children worked in the fields. The others who had tried to learn the instrument were sent to be executed. For four years he endured life in the camp under the threatening eyes of the soldiers, and when he was sent to fight the Vietnamese at age 12 he escaped and survived for three months in the jungle. I will leave you to read on to find how he was rescued and survived the floods.
This compelling story of survival and hope written by Michelle Lord ( her youngest daughter was adopted from Cambodia), is beautifully illustrated in large full-page pictures by Shino Arihara. I am sure, whether you have been to Cambodia or not, you will find this story very moving. At the very back of the book is a list of Author’s sources, including an email and telephone interviews with Arn. Here is a link to one interview ..http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1344101
Also near the back is an afterword which tells us in 1984 Arn Chorn-Pond founded the “Children of War Organization” to teach teenagers in the United States about the horrors of war and hate. Arn eventually returned to Cambodia, believing in helping care for others in refugee camps he can then rid himself of his horrible past, as he said, “I must go and try to help rebuild Cambodia, but also rebuild my own life.” He received the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1988 for his work with survivors and founded Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development. In the United States he worked with gang members and other at-risk youth showing teens how to express their feelings through music, not violence. He was also awarded the “Spirit of Anne Frank Award” in 1996 for humanitarian work. In 1998 he created the Cambodian Living Arts program to revive the traditional art forms of Cambodia. He returned to Cambodia and found an old opera star of long ago digging through trash, a percussionist wandering the streets homeless and by bringing them and other musicians together recorded their songs and revive traditional Cambodian music.
Today he still continues his work in Cambodia. The last words on this page reads…When a young boy, music saved his life. Now it is his mission to save the music.