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Arn Chorn Pond Visits Pingree

Isabelle Job

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Just last week Pingree had the pleasure of hosting a guest speaker named Arn Chorn Pond, a activist of peace, and a survivor of the Cambodian Genocide. Arn started off his speech by playing a piece of music he was forced to play for the Khmer Rouge during his time spent in a detention camp. Arn reminded us the power of music from the beginning of his speech to the end, by telling us his story and how music saved his life.

When Arn was a child, his country was overthrown by the Khmer Rouge, a communist movement led by Pol Pot. After overthrowing the government, they placed Cambodians into labor camps where disease, abuse, and starvation took many lives. Targeted people included merchants, artisans, and educated people who were sent to these camps for reduction and possibly death. The Khmer Rouge had the goal of turning Cambodia into a rural, classless society of collectivized farms. The leader of the Khmer Rouge in 1976 declared it to be “year zero” as he started to build his new Empire.

All of these terrible events began when Arn was just about 12 years old. Stripped from his family, Arn was put into a detention camp with seven hundred other children. In the camp, he was forced to watch the deaths of many of children in the camp, including his own sister. Arn, as well as some other children, were forced and taught to play propaganda music for the Khmer Rouge soldiers. Despite being forced to play the music for the Khmer Rouge, Arn reminded us how music saved his life. By persuading the party that he had to learn more music to play to them, it saved him from being hurt, unlike many of the other children who played music with Arn and were tragically killed.

After two years in the detention camp, Arn was put in the battlefield along with many other Cambodian children to fight in the Vietnam War for the Americans. Once again, he had to witness the deaths of friends, but had to learn to handle his emotions. Eventually, Arn ran away into the jungle of Cambodia where he lived and survived for months. In 1979 he ended up until in Thailand where he was found by his later foster father Peter Pond, who took Arn back to America. Back in America, Arn was sent to high school in New Hampshire not knowing a word of English. Arn soon realized that life was harder in high school in New Hampshire than surviving the jungle in Cambodia. Kids at his high school would bully Arn because he looked different, all the while not knowing Arn’s true story.

After severe depression from the bullying, Arn’s foster father suggested that Arn share his story in order for himself and others to heal. In front of 10,000 people, his first speech was in New York at St. John The Divine Cathedral. After telling his story, Arn felt better about himself because other people knew where he came from and what he had been through. While telling his story, Arn began to want to learn the stories of others, and immediately began activist work that he continues to this day.

Arn’s first activist movement was the creation of Children of War, a group that comes together to tell the stories of children who have fought in a war in the past. Today, he uses music, because of how it saved him during the Cambodian Genocide, and travels the world to spread peace and awareness of it’s healing power.

Arn told Pingree that every person has a story and it is very important for people to know the stories of others. He challenged us to ask someone where they are from and what they have been experienced, because a single story can have the power to change millions of people. He also told us to cherish the freedoms we have and the opportunities we are granted. After Arn’s memorable speech the Pingree community has been reminded of the many stories that shape the world we live in today, and have been given the task to learn more about the people around them, and to not be afraid to share their own stories they cherish deeply.

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Arn Chorn Pond Visits Pingree