A Book Recommendation by Caitlyn Collins

September 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm Leave a comment

I felt inspired to join Austin2Angkor as a volunteer for several reasons. One was seeing the success of Austin2Africa, which many of the Austin2Angkor volunteers were a part of, including Roni, my friend who started Austin2Angkor. The second reason I wanted to join was reading about Roni’s travels throughout Southeast Asia, especially her connection to Cambodia. I thought it was amazing that she chose to spend extra time in a country she knew almost nothing about volunteering with the Build Your Future Today Center (BFT) in Siem Reap. Lastly, as someone that strives to volunteer whenever possible as well as a person that loves to travel, volunteering for Austin2Angkor seemed like a natural choice.

If I needed any additional motivation, I found it in Loung Ung’s memoir, First They Killed My Father. I admit, Cambodia is not a country I knew much about before signing onto this project. And after reading this story, it’s amazing to me that I don’t know more about Cambodia. How has U.S history, which played a role in the horrific period known as the Khmer Rouge, not acknowledge this country?

Loung Ung’s tale begins when she is five years old without a care in the world. The Ung family is better off financially than many Cambodian families, something Loung is aware at her young age. She has two parents she loves, her father especially, and six brothers and sisters. She has pretty clothes and gets to eat delicious foods, all of which she describes in rich detail. Her happy, secure world is ripped apart on April 17, 1975 when soldiers of the Khmer Rouge march in and order the evacuation of the town. As a government official, her father must be especially careful as they are the first to be ruthlessly executed.

Ung’s story is astounding. She is marched for days with her family from one village to the next. They begin to live off of very little food, rice soup and small bits of fish. They are considered suspicious in the new villages they go to because they are from the city and her mother is of Chinese decent. Ung sees her family torn apart as her older siblings are forced to live in a teenage work camp. Soon, death becomes a routine reality, but it hits her hard when death inevitably takes members of her own family.

In order to save her children, Ung’s mother sends them away. Loung and her sister Chou live together in an orphanage camp where Loung’s rage and hostility develop, making her an ideal soldier for the Khmer Rouge. At such a young age she must fight for her life, for her family, in order to eat, defend herself again rape and suffer through explosions and the death of loved ones. How does one do that at the age of eight?

I urge everyone interested in Cambodia, including all of the Austin2Angkor volunteers, to read this story.  Now more than ever I feel strongly about doing what I can for today’s children of Cambodia. While the Khmer Rouge is no longer if control, they are still very much affected by what happened to their country not so long ago.

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Entry filed under: inspiration, volunteers.

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