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AANHPI Heritage Month: Surviving the Khmer Rouge

In honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AANHPI), Program Director of Northeast AFC Services Samantha Chhrech shared this reflection and remembrance of her sister’s time in the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot's leadership, perpetrated one of the most devastating genocides in history during its rule from 1975 to 1979. Their policies led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 to 2.2 million people through mass executions, forced labor, and starvation in labor camps known as "killing fields."

Read Samantha’s sister’s story below:

“Battambang! The city where my sister, Chan was born in but sadly a place where she never had the opportunity to experience her childhood in.  My sister was only 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.  My parents and siblings were forced to leave their home and were relocated to a labor camp.  At that time, my sister did not understand what was happening as she was being separated from my brothers and dad.  Fortunately, she was not separated from my mom.  My sister remembered that she was crying out for my dad when they were being separated.  Chan had told me that our mom had said to her, to have hope (ក្តីសង្ឃឹម; ktei sangkhum) that one day we will be reunited.  ‘Ktei sangkhum’ were the words that had kept my sister strong during her time in the labor camp and those were the words that gave her the will and desire to survive so that one day she would indeed be reunited with the rest of her family.  Growing up and listening to the countless stories that Chan had told me, I had thought they were just that, a story and nothing more.  It was not until I was in my late teens when I had read a book called ‘First They Killed My Father’ by Loung Ung that I had truly understood what my siblings had overcome. The book is Loung’s memoir of her childhood living under the Khmer Rouge Regime.  After reading the book, I was heartbroken knowing that many children like my siblings were robbed of their childhood.  Ktei sangkhum (Hope)! - a word that I have adopted as part of my mantra as we continue to see hatred and injustices in this world that we live in.”


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