She witnessed indescribable things no 5-year-old should have to see. As part of Genocide Awareness Week at Heidelberg later this month, former Heidelberg employee Sreng Kim-Chhay and her mother, Hoeur Kim, will return to campus to tell their personal story of surviving the Cambodian “killing fields,” a horrific example of genocide that left 2 million people tortured and executed.
Although just a child and too young to comprehend the importance of the events on April 17, 1975, the day the genocide began, Kim vividly remembers the chaos of the mass evacuation of people from the city to the countryside. Her family was forced to leave their home and resettle in a remote jungle village at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime.
“That day was the beginning of the terror that scarred Cambodian hearts and souls for life,” Kim says.
Kim and her family were assigned to live in concentration camps, where her life was turned upside down. She was separated from her family and forced into a child labor camp. “The display of torture and execution became daily routine,” she says. She witnessed the execution of her father and the removal of several older siblings who were snatched from the camp and sent to their deaths.
She managed to survive her “pure hell on earth.” In 1979, when the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled, Kim and her family were reunited and began their journey to immigration in the U.S. She thrived in school and life returned to a new normal.
Kim earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-La cross, and has worked in higher education student affairs for nearly 20 years. From 1999-2009, she worked with international students and on diversity topics at Heidelberg. Today, she is an advisor for multicultural issues at Stark State College in North Canton, Ohio.
While at Heidelberg, Kim and Hoeur will give several presentations about their first-hand experiences of surviving the killing fields. Students will have an opportunity to meet and interact with them during class and small group discussions, as well as the larger presentations.
To learn more about the Cambodian genocide and to prepare for the presentations, Heidelberg will air the award-winning movie “The Killing Fields” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, in Rickly Chapel.
Additionally, an opportunity for an artistic response to genocide will be offered on Thursday, Sept. 20, from 12:30-6 p.m. in the Aramark Room. Students will be able to paint a panel for the Art Miles Project.