Reflections on the Khmer Rouge

#9: Reflect on the Khmer Rouge by commenting on some of the following: the ECCC trials going on now, our dinner and time with Theary Seng (Daughter of the Killing Fields), our visit to the Killing Fields Memorial outside Phnom Penh, and our visit to the detention and torture center museum/memorial in PP. You might choose to include insights into how this holocaust history perhaps affects Cambodia today or how these experiences affected you personally.

Mitchell Feria

Its been a sobering couple of days, taking a closer look at the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Yesterday we visited the infamous Tuol Sleng torture prison. An estimated 15,000 Cambodians were detained here over its three years of operation – just around 200 survived.

What struck me most about this facility was its location; Tuol Sleng sits right in the middle of Phnom Penh. It blends into the city – you wouldn’t even know it was there if you weren’t looking for it…I didn’t. We ate dinner at a restaurant right across the street from it earlier this week and I had no idea. I didn’t even realize we had reached our destination yesterday until the bus stopped. I guess I had expected most of the detention camps would lie in the countryside rather than the city. Though during its time of operation Phnom Penh had been evacuated, everyday life now continues all around the grounds of Tuol Sleng. Its walls and barbed wire provide an ominous reminder of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge to countless locals every day.

It has been apparent since being in Cambodia that the reign of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot still affect the people here. Which is completely understandable – it’s hard to believe these atrocities occurred just 35 years ago. In other words, everyone in this country over the age of 35 felt the effects of the Khmer Rouge first hand. When we met with Theary Seng, she agreed, mentioning that Pol Pot’s regime destroyed Cambodians trust in one another. She also stated that Cambodians have put up with a subpar governnment for a long time now but are afraid to do anything about it for fear of a repeat of a painful history.

The pain of an entire country is not easily healed…


Prayer to the King

Jay Gabbard here with a response to question #10. It reads..
#10: As our time in Cambodia draws to a close, the final course blog assignment is to craft a prayer – your prayer for Cambodia and its people. You can be concrete and pray specifically for some of the organizations we visited and the people you met, but you may also pray for the faceless names or the nameless faces you have become aware of and your fellow students and yourself. What is your hope and prayer as we exit and return to our lives back in North America?
Father God,
I ask that you would continue to develop this country that has gone through a horrifying period of history. I can say that it is evident you are working in big ways through these people. I am serious when I say there is a lot of hope here. Give strength and hope to the Cambodians that are weak. Reveal to them your power and presence Lord. Place people in their lives that can spread your word and reveal who you are. Give boldness to those who know you. Stretch them beyond their own comfort and give them perseverance.
Lord I also pray for CRWRC. I thank you for their vision and thoughtful process of bringing the love and community you push us to seek. Continue to bring peace and joy to anyone involved with the organization and for those who find pain and struggle, lift them up. Push them to seek you when they are low. Encourage them in their walk. I pray for the community organizers that they would listen to the needs of the people and elect the right leaders. For any people helping support CRWRC, I ask that you would make clear their support is going a long way.
Lord I lift up Theary Seng, author of “Daughter of the Killing Fields” who met with us last night for dinner. I want to ask you to give her wisdom Lord as she works to bring justice to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Give her hope and clarity through this difficult time. I also ask that you would give her balance with her work. Help her to cut out time aside from work to be involved in community. Place individuals in her life that can foster healthy community and let her know she is loved.
Lastly, I ask that you would give our group health. Currently, some of the students are running fevers and signs of malaria.. Help us find strength in you and know you never leave our side. As we change pace and head to the farm, help us to be safe and wise. Keep us in your hands Lord.
Father God, thank you for all that you have done with us thus far in Cambodia and I ask that you would continue to strengthen us. Help us to acknowledge you in all that we do.
In your sons heavenly name,

Zac Baker, Blog Assignment #9

This past week, we’ve been staying in Phnom Penh. PP is much less touristy than Siem Reap. Yesterday, we had planned to go to Choeung Ek (a “killing field”) and Tuol Sleng (the S-21 prison). Unfortunately, due to time, we were unable to go to Tuol Sleng, but we will be doing that later today.

With things like this, it’s not always easy for me to say what I actually mean to say. Like, it’s a good experience to see these places. It’s good to learn about the tragedy of Cambodia. It’s good to learn about the horrors that happened. While it is good, it’s very sobering. As I walked through Choeung Ek, I tried to imagine what it would be like to be there. I think it’s probably impossible to do so even remotely accurately. I also tried to figure how anyone could justify that to themselves and others. I couldn’t figure it out. It’s just an extremely dark mystery of humanity.

Another thing we did this week was go to ECCC to try to sit in on the trial of three (plus one with dementia who is in a different boat) of the mid- to high-level officers in the Khmer Rouge. It’s interesting to me that they are being tried some 30 years later. I wonder if they ever felt guilty or felt like they were in the wrong? Or did they feel justified in their actions? Did they see anything wrong with it? I don’t know.

It’s angering to think about the Khmer Rouge Era.

Last night, we were also given the opportunity to eat with Theary Seng and listen to her speak. A very interesting thing that she brought up was the assumption of innocence. In national courts, defendants are innocent until proven guilty. But the ECCC is not a national court. History was written, and it’s fairly widely known what was done. Does the ECCC really have to prove guilt, or just the extent of the guilt? Does this undermine basic human or civil rights? I’m not sure. Lot’s of uncertainty in many of these matters. Things to think about, anyways.

-Zac Baker

Hunger and Joy, Alison DeRooy

This is a late reflection about hunger from when we participated in feeding many children lunch with the organization Dail. I fed a small girl lunch (maybe 4 years old). I sat next to her and helped her put food on her spoon and encouraged her to eat it. Her older sister (maybe 10 years old) continually reminded the small girl to eat her rice and vegetables first. However, the small girl kept sneaking her dessert (fruit) and avoiding her vegetables. After every successful bite of dessert, she would grin up at me as if to say “Did you see that?” The small girl ate her fruit so slowly, as if to savor the taste. In fact, she at it so slowly that she never actually ate any rice or vegetables and the older sister wrapped the food up in a bag to bring to their family. It seems that even in the face of hunger, kids still want their dessert first 🙂 The small girl continued to grin at me to make sure I saw that she got away without her vegetables.

Today we went to a church that I went to 2 years ago. It is a beautiful and humble church with many smiling faces. There is something about worshiping in more than 1 language at a time that is meaningful, joyful, and peaceful all at the same time. There is something about remembering faces and friends from 2 years ago. There is something about standing and hearing a prayer in another language that you can’t understand yet still feel what is being said in your heart. Uniting with people who are different yet the same brings me immense joy.

Learning about development in Cambodia

Claire Phillippi
We went to an international student convention on Monday and Tuesday. I learned quite a bit about development and what the some students of Cambodia are interested in. I didn’t really know anything about development when I came here. I knew it requires an infrastructure which is something Cambodia does not really have.
I would say the most important thing I have learned about development has been that you need the help of the people. How can you develop an area that does not want to be developed? Another key point that I learned was that Ownership. While I worked in Manufacturing as an intern we had the hardest time getting people to care about their work and take ownership of their areas. It was funny to me that was a similar problem in Cambodia. It seems people here just want handouts. When they get them they might let go the innovations that some foreign or local NGO just set up. It is a problem of encouragement and empowerment.
I learned many other things about laws and the economy of Cambodia. I have a great hope that Cambodia will prosper in the upcoming years. I just hope that Cambodians learn to not lean on their government so strongly.

The Killing Fields

Annelle Eben

Today was the day that many of us were dreading. We planned to visit both the killing fields and the Tuol Sleng prison, however, due to another impromtu schedule change, the prison visit is postponed until tomorrow. I think I appreciate the time to process between these two difficult locations.

I brought along my journal to the killing fields, and this is what I wrote while I was walking through the campus:

Wrapping your head around the reality of this place is so difficult. Especially when you begin to listen. There is a school directly on the other side of the fence behind me, and it is definitely recess right now. The sounds of kids laughing and playing reaches my ears from behind, birds are happily chattering on my right, and someone is loudly playing Khmer music on the road across from the complex on my right. It is a sunny, breezy, beautiful day.

This beautiful location is the burial place for 20,000 people.

Mass graves stretch over 6 acres, where the earth still shows signs of shifting mounds and human bones are still resurfacing to the paths when it rains. Bullets were expensive, so victims were forced to kneel in front of a mass grave, then were hit with whatever the guards had available. Inside the museum, multiple common tools were on display. Some of them were the same tools we used to clean out the drainage trench at NIBI. How disgusting.

The clubbing did not always kill the victims, so poisons like DDT were sprinkled over the mass graves to complete the job and cover the smell of decay.

These are just a few of the atrocities that we heard about, and this is just one of the 200 mass graves found around Cambodia.

It is impossible for me to comprehend how something like this genocide could have happened. How do so many people fail to stop a movement that is so obviously wrong? A political statement that involves murdering children? Pol Pot said, “To keep you is no gain, to lose you is no loss.” What a reign of fear. Combined with ignorance. It is horrifying how incredible, efficient, secretive, and cruel this was. Humans are capable of some very, very scary things.

On a brighter note, tonight we had the privilege of eating dinner with Theary Seng, and we had the chance to ask her questions. I appreciated hearing Ms. Seng’s perspective on the general mindset of Cambodia: “A citizen is someone who knows her rights and exercises them. We are not citizens, we are subjects. And the Khmer Rouge made us survivors. ”

Cambodia is not where it should be today, and it faces some serious and complicated problems as a nation. However, we have seen many organizations in just the past two weeks that are operating out of a spirit of hope. The Cambodian people seem acutely aware of the challenges of developing their country, but I see hope in the people all around me.