This weekend I went to Phnom Penh with some of the other volunteers from the organization and while we were there we decided to visit the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields and the S-21 Prison. Although, it was one of the most depressing things and places I’ve visited here, it is important to see and learn about this period of time to help understand the Khmer culture and their history. I read about the Khmer Rouge before coming to Cambodia and I knew a bit about the background but visiting these two sites helped me truly appreciate Cambodians even more.
From 1975-1979 the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s regime killed over 3,000,000 Cambodians, this is from a population totaling 8,000,000 people. 1 out of 4 people in Cambodia was assassinated during this regime. Pol Pot believed that educated people were worthless and that individuals should only work the fields, therefore he killed most of the educated people in the country, doctors, lawyers and anyone who was or looked smart. For example, if you wore glasses you were considered to be smart and were taken to prison. The Khmer Rouge army tortured Cambodias for years, including young man, woman and even babies. While walking the killing fields one can still see pieces of clothing and bones from the mass graves. The tour of the killing fields lasts about 2 hours and consists of 19 different stops, each stop is a landmark where either a mass grave or torture artifact was found.
Although, it is very gruesome and even overwhelming to learn about this terrible piece of history, the main lesson I learned from all this is that the Khmer people are proud to have survived this situation. The country ‘s infrastructure is still recovering from the destruction of the Khmer Rouge and families still deal with the pain of knowing most of their family members were killed during this time. However, they work hard everyday to rebuild what was destroyed by the evil ideals of Pol Put. I’ve noticed this is a subject people don’t like to talk about because it still very recent. When asking the locals about it, one can see they are hesitant to make any comments. Nonetheless, Cambodians are still some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. You are always received with a smile anywhere you go and an invite to lunch at their house even if they don’t speak English or you speak Khmer. This is so incredible to me, with such a terrible history of suffering and war, Khmer people are proud to be known for their resilience and for their work ethic. I’m so fascinated with this culture!