Remembrance and Thriving

I am who I am because of my heroines: my 92 year-old grandmother, my aunts and my mother. Thank you for being amazing women!

I am Sarah Kith, a child refugee from Cambodia. Today, I live my life fully at 44 years old, beyond what I could ever imagine possible. My educational accomplishments and my practice in conflict resolution are results of their support and love.

April 17, 2015, marks the 40th year of remembrance as the beginning of one of the darkest days of our Cambodian history. I lost my great grandparents, grandfather, a father, four uncles, and a cousin who was my age, then barely 5 years old, along with nearly two million other Cambodians.

Similar stories echoed among Cambodian communities across the globe. It was estimated that between 21-25 percent of predominately men, the elderly, and Cambodian children were tortured, executed, overworked and or starved to death from 1975-1979, four horrific years under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime.

Between 1979 and 1980, three brave widows (my grandmother, my grand aunt, and my mother) each led their families on separate journeys, traveling by foot at night, and eventually made their way across the border of Cambodia and Thailand, leaving our homes in Phnom Penh, Battambang, and my grandmother’s birthplace near Siem Reap. Living in makeshift shelters in Khao-I-Dang refugee camp, we waited anxiously to hear approval to come to the United States.  That day came after President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th US President. February 17, 1981, we landed at the National Ronald Reagan Airport and took roots in the Northern Virginia Area after briefly living in Washington, DC, and Maryland. Our family of 14 members branched out, quadrupling to 54 members, with the youngest member turning one on March 29, 2015. 

We see frequent headlines about Cambodians suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and our community is still facing new trauma as some Cambodian families are torn apart once more due to deportation from the U.S. back to the homeland. But we are stronger than we think. Through remembering and honoring our history as both beautiful and difficult, we healed the souls, including those invisible to us. In the process, we healed ourselves and reconstructed new meanings as a way forward.

By Sarah Kith

**On Friday evening, April 17, CCD and the Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Silver Spring, Maryland will host a candle light Vigil, honoring the nearly 2 million Cambodians killed from 1975-1979. **