Chenda Chhi: Khmer Rouge survivor builds schools in rural #Cambodia

I recently met Chenda Chhi the founder of Coral Tree Education Foundation, which does important work to create an educated and compassionate new generation of young #Cambodians. The foundation rebuilds old public schools in rural areas. Their first school, Coral Tree Elementary, is located in Prek Snor village which is 40 miles out of the center of the city of Battambang. There are currently 300 students who attend this school.

Chenda is originally from Battambang, Cambodia. As a child, she attended an all girls’ school; she was a top student in her class and was excelling in her studies. Sadly, along with many other Cambodian children, her childhood came to an abrupt halt after the Khmer Rouge took power, and began their “social cleansing” by killing anyone with an education. Cambodia suffered one of the world’s worst genocides; nearly half of its population was killed in four years. The Khmer Rouge soldiers took Chenda from her family as they did all children older than 12. She was forced to work in rice fields and build water dams in remote areas with little food or sleep, and no medicine or shelter with other young children. Pretending to be illiterate, with her head most often shaved, she managed to survive the executions. Most of her childhood friends, and nearly half of her close relatives were killed or died from starvation, hard labor and diseases. In her immediate family, her father and youngest brother died trying to escape the regime.

She shared her thoughts with me about the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime:
“I met with my soul brother Sieu Sean Do. He triggered my sad and beautiful memories of my dear departed younger brother who went missing in 1978 at age 13, during the Khmer Rouge regime, the same age as Sean in his book, A Cloak of Good Fortune. Sean is an eloquent writer, communicator and a devout Buddhist priest in disguise. After meeting Sean a thought came to my mind. When we survive such an atrocity like a genocide, we have only two choices: Becoming stronger emotionally yet being ever so gentle and compassionate, for we know how horrific emotional pain inflicted or any kind of life hardship can feel. The other option is to break down and become hateful and angry and pass down the harms inflicted on us forward through the people in our lives, especially our children. 
I admire Sean’s courage as I do my brothers and sisters who share their stories in books and films. Our stories, like that of the Holocaust, Rwanda, Armenian and all of other genocides, must be told over and over so that the world will not forget… and we can only hope it helps reduce the chance of it from happening again.
Thank you for my copy of your memoir, Sean!!!”

Chenda Chhi with Sieu Sean Do

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