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Cambodian genocide survivor speaks at DSLC

Kaitlyn Rabach | Tuesday, March 20, 2012

 

To kick off the Saint Mary’s Diverse Students’ Leadership Conference (DSLC), Cambodian genocide survivor Arn Chorn Pond shared his story of survival and healing under the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

“When I was just nine years old the Communists took over the country,” Pond said. “My parents were executed and I was forced to watch my siblings crawl … to a death of starvation. It was very hard for me to feel so powerless and know that I could not help them.”

While in the camps, soldiers forced Pond to partake in some of the murders.

“Sometimes they would force me to help them out,” Pond said. “I was a prisoner, and they could force me to push others into the graves. If I showed any emotion with the victims I would have been killed.”

Pond said his love for traditional Cambodian music, specifically the flute, helped him through his difficult experiences. He and four other prisoners in the camp started a music group; only two members of that group are alive today.

“Music got me through,” Pond said. “Even today, it still helps me to heal.”

In 1980, after living several months alone in the Cambodian jungle, Pond was rescued and adopted by Reverend Peter L. Pond who brought him back to New Hampshire.

“I felt very lucky, but very scared at the same time,” Pond said. “It seemed as though no one in the United States understood me or where I came from.”

After coming to the U.S., Pond said he felt anger, depression, resentment and even suicidal at times. His adopted father encouraged him to speak out and share his story to help deal with his feelings.

“I didn’t know what it meant to be heard,” Pond said. “I never thought that white Americans would care about me, but I was wrong.”

He started speaking at local churches and today his voice has been heard by Amnesty International groups, the United Nations and even former President Jimmy Carter.

After he began to share his experience, Pond stepped into a new role: human rights activist. He is the recipient of many international humanitarian awards and founder of several organizations, including Children of War, Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development and Peace Makers.

“I choose to sing and to start different organizations,” Pond said. “It is not easy to share my story, but it is part of my healing process. I love the work that I do now because it saves lives and inspires others. This work allows me live.”

DSLC chair Guadalupe Quintana said Pond’s talk was a perfect way to kick off events for the conference because his talk will inspire others.

“His story is very capturing and embodies everything that DSLC represents,” she said.

Quintana said DSLC represents sharing stories that would otherwise go unheard and learning of differences that would often go unnoticed.

Pond expressed the importance of embracing one’s roots and one’s own unique stories.

“It is our life and our story,” Pond said. “Don’t deny your differences or your stories, because then you will be denying your culture.”

Pond ended his talk by encouraging the members of the audience to go out in the community and share their voices for social change.

“Do not underestimate one person,” Pond said. “Everyone has their own story to share. Everyone has their own pain. Do not spend time comparing pain, just live united. One by one you are the angel that the world needs. Go fly and be that angel.”

Contact Kaitlyn Rabach at krabac01@saintmarys.edu