Human rights activist Arn Chorn-Pond came to campus on April 29. He visited with classes throughout the day and addressed students on Friday evening.
Chorn-Pond was born in Cambodia in 1966 and is a survivor of the Pol Pot Regime and the Cambodian communist movement under the Khmer Rouge (CPK) communist party. An estimated 1.5 million people living in Cambodia were killed during the brutal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Their bodies were buried in mass graves that became known as “killing fields.”
In preparation for Chorn-Pond’s visit, students and faculty read the book Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. The book recounts Chorn-Pond’s experience during the regime, and his time at the Wat Ek Phnom prison camp, where he was sent in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came into power.
Chorn-Pond opened his address to Millbrook students and faculty by playing his flute. This was a meaningful introduction, as he was able to survive his time at the prison camp by playing flute to entertain the soldiers. He was one of few to survive, and he says that music and his ability to repress his emotions saved his life.
“I had to make myself numb,” he said, referencing how the Khmer Rouge killed prisoners who exhibited any emotion at Wat Ek Phom.
Eventually Chorn-Pond escaped from the prison camp, and lived in the jungle for many months alone. In 1980, he entered Thailand and was brought to the Sa Kaeo Refugee Camp. There he met Reverend Peter L. Pond. Reverend Pond took Arn home with him to New Hampshire and adopted him in 1984.
Chorn-Pond shared his experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which onset when he came to the United States with Reverend Pond. “After being numb for so long, it was hard to connect with people,” he said.
It is amazing that someone who experienced such brutality is now so dedicated to helping others through sharing his story. Chorn-Pond offered a humbling perspective about life’s challenges, and about how we can process, learn, move forward, and create positive change based on our experiences. Specifically, he referenced the importance of helping others:
“I never want any children, or anyone else to go through what I went through,” he said. “Thank you for being you, I think the world needs you to go help. Be the angels that you are and don’t be numb, go help others.”
Chorn-Pond has dedicated his life to helping others, not only through his speeches, but also through his organization, Cambodian Living Arts. Cambodian Living Arts helps youth deal with Cambodia’s history through traditional music and art. Millbrook students will be traveling to Cambodia this summer and will work with Chorn-Pond's organization during their service trip.
Chorn-Pond's visit was not only educational and enjoyable, but also timely, as his commitment to helping others aligns with Millbrook's community spotlight for the 2015-2016 academic year: service for social justice. Students and faculty have been reflecting on what service for social just means throughout the year, and Chorn-Pond's address was a perfect culmination of this year's studies and reflection.
Thank you Arn Chorn-Pond for sharing your time and for sharing your experience and music. It was a privilege to listen to and spend time with such an incredible person.