Recorded 4/11/08, Facing History and Ourselves (printable pdf version)
ADRIANNE: Welcome, everyone, to this "Be the Change" online event, entitled "Preventing Genocide, Promoting Peace: A Podcast Conversation with Arn Chorn Pond." My name is Adrianne Billingham Bock and I'm a Program Associate at Facing History and Ourselves. Facing History is an educational non-profit organization that engages students throughout the world in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.
"Be the Change: Upstanders for Human Rights" is Facing History’s interactive website, which profiles the stories of five Reebok Human Rights Award winners. Among those five is Arn Chorn Pond, an extraordinary man who we are so honored to speak with today, and who I will introduce in a moment.
This podcast is being supported by two wonderful partners: TakingITGlobal, an online community for young people interested in making a difference, and The Genocide Intervention Network, whose hundreds of High School and College STAND chapters are doing such good work to organize young people to take action on the genocide happening right now in Darfur. We thank these organizations and welcome Taking It Global and STAND members who may be listening.
Speaking with Arn today will be some wonderful Facing History students from the Boston area. Sunny and Ankita are at the Boston International High School in Jamaica Plain, and Simona attends Brookline High School where she is both a Facing History student and where she has been involved with the STAND chapter. Welcome to all of you.
ANKITA, SIMONA, SUNNY: Thank you.
ADRIANNE: Arn Chorn Pond's story is remarkable. Most of his family members were killed during the Cambodian Genocide. Forced to become a child soldier, ultimately Arn escaped and survived this horrific time. And in 1980, he was adopted by a minister from New Hampshire. When he came to the United States, he carried with him the burden of a traumatic personal history while at the same time, he was trying to adjust to life in a culture so different from anything he had known. Those around him encouraged Arn to tell his story, and in doing so, Arn found his voice. He also realized his extraordinary ability to affect others. Through his work with such organizations as Children of War--which he founded--, his gang-intervention work with Asian youth, and his work passing on the traditions of master musicians in Cambodia, Arn has touched the lives of so many. If Gandhi's famous words, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" exemplify anyone, it's Arn Chorn Pond. So Arn, thank you so much for everything that you do.
ARN: Thank you.
ADRIANNE: And for being here to speak with us today.
ARN: Thank you very much for having me here.
ADRIANNE: So we’re going to start asking some questions, and I think Ankita is going to be the first person to ask you a question.
ANKITA: Hello. You have gone through some terrible things. So now, what motivates you to keep facing present and future challenges?
ARN: There’s two ways in my life why I chose to speak and to be reminded of my past, very horrible past, that any children in the world shouldn’t experience. Now I’m in America, I have so many choices;, I could go the other way: maybe live an American life, you know, like making a lot of money, and stay out of things, you know, stay out of involvement with my country, and stuff like that. Especially with the children, I was once a child, and forced to go through all these things, and I could isolate myself and not talk and bottle up all this inside my heart. That’s one way.
The other way is that I will be reminded every time I speak about my life to the young people. Whenever I speak, I learned how to cry. It was very important for me. It helps me, it heals me, every time.
You know, I freeze when they give me guns. I was only 12. 12, 13 to go and fight, and to be the shield of this war, and many kids was shot, many of my friends shot were only little kids, and I never thought I was a little kid. I was literally 12, 13, but now I have to grow up like 35 year old man to fight and scream and swear in the battlefields. So speaking and healing myself is a matter of life and death. You know, the other side is the more I speak out, and the more the act of giving that to these children, so that they would understand their lives, not to take things for granted, you know?
So I have to find way, and the more good thing you do in your life, and I’m not only speaking in my life, I am going, I like the front line, I like to go and risk my life, you know, working in the rice field in Cambodia – there’s 7 million land mines there – I‘m shooting the music video now for Sesame Street, I do Uncle Arn, like Mr. Rogers, you know. All these things with the kids, all at-risk, you know, I work at a shelter in downtown Providence and Lowell and the gang members would, south east Asian gang members, but Latino, blacks, too, would with the Crips and the Bloods, I trying to get them together and do negotiation, in the church. So all risking. But I like those, because I use that experience from the front line to talk, not only talk without any experience. I think the school of thought and the school of action goes together.
I don’t think too big about saving the world or anything like that, just merely being truthful to myself and how I can use my life now and my family who died and my sister who died – for nothing! I had…
ADRIANNE: We can go on to another question, if you’d like to.
ARN: Sorry. I’ll just take a moment.
ADRIANNE: Take as much time as you need.
ARN: Look, I had a very beautiful sister. And … I’m not sure why they deserved to die. I have an older sister as beautiful as you, and the younger sisters, beautiful as you, and she die slowly, and I can’t do much to help her.
So, I’m using that to tell the young people in this country and around the world that, I hope, this is not only my story. It will be yours. I mean, there are so many immigrants here now, some with the same or worse as my story. You from different countries, too. And many of us from different countries. You, too! You ask your mom and your dad where they came from.
SIMONA: I came here from Latvia, five years ago.
ARN: And her, too. Where do your parents come from?
ADRIANNE: My parents were born in Boston, but before that, the generations before that, from Ireland.
ARN: My dad--my foster father--is from England. We all refugees. We shouldn’t forget that very soon. And I asked you not to forget that, when you become citizens of United States, of America. Proud. Be proud of it. But don’t be too proud to forget where you come from.
ADRIANNE: I think we are going to move now to a question of Simona’s.
SIMONA: There’s a genocide going on right now, and there are a lot of places in the world where future genocides are possible. What can we do to prevent things like genocide?
ARN: You know to prevent a genocide it takes everybody, we can’t not only take you and me, you know it takes everybody, like raising a child, it take the whole village, they say. So I quit, sometime, thinking about I can save the world, or anything like that, which is secret, many times in my dream I still think that I can save the world, every child will be saved, I will save. But I just want to tell you it’s very difficult out there, you know, sometime depressing, sometime very pessimistic, you feel pessimistic and depressed about saving the world. I think what you are doing now with Facing History, and with other organizations, when you finish college, and you find out like Amnesty International, for example, just writing letters to save the prisoners of war and all of that, it’s an act of goodness and that’s probably in the future that’s all you can do, you know, because you probably will have a job in the future. In America, whatever your profession is, hopefully they will pay you for being a peacemaker, but I don’t know, I don’t know whether anybody would pay you as a peacemaker. You have to work for it. Peace and being peacemaker not so popular.
But try to get everyone together, especially the politicians and the businessmen to come, and say this is what all the young people around the world would like to see changed, or would like to see in the world. That, you know, that would be very good. But genocides started too, you know, because some people, many people are poor, only few people are rich. Few people get all the resources and many people don’t get anything! Genocide will start again if that continue.
So this is a bigger issue for all of us to think about. And whatever you have done in your own life, with the right direction, for peace, for peace, but also peace, it’s not, it’s not a joke. Peace is not a pacifist, you know? A lot of action in peace, a lot of creativity in peace. You will find creativity in your own life when you finish school. School – finishing school is one of the peacemaking. You finish school first, you finish whatever you know, create name for yourself by your aspiration, what you want to see the world, change. And then who knows? You might be the president of the United States very soon, I don’t know. I don’t know. You know?
ADRIANNE: Thank you, Arn. So, maybe we’ll move on to Sunny’s question.
SUNNY: Why do you think things like genocide continue to happen? Do you think it’s because deep down, people are bad? Or because good people can do bad things?
ARN: Why genocide happen? And it will happen again if good people are doing nothing. I don’t think there are bad people, I mean, even though what I went through I never in my life never believed there are good people in the world. It needs to be proven, but I’m very lucky now to be meeting people like my dad, my foster father, who was a white man. And he, practically, died now, b/c he wanted to save me and thousands of other kids.
You know, we need Americans like him to save the world without saying. He risked his life to save me. So, genocide will occur again if all the good people of all races and around the world have forgotten.
We need to include even what we call our enemies. Peace is not enemies. We work for peace, there is no enemy. And even better to include our friends, our enemies of all things, to sit down. That’s what peace is all about. Ask Jesus Christ, ask Buddha how they do it. Not with war. And I believe it more strongly now. If I continue to fuel myself in my sleep about hate, the Vietnamese, or hate the Palestinians, or hate the Israelis, or hate the South Africans, the white South Africans, I will not be living.
We are killing ourselves because we are teaching our children how to hate. Literally, we are dying. So peace is good thing, you know? Peace is creating an environment for all of us to work for peace, to make a child smile. To give, to those who don’t have, right? That’s what they call peace. Peace is active, you know? To help out when there is violence, there is violence in places--in schools--two friends fight each other, you go and try to compromise, ask them to see, to negotiate without violence. That’s an action that we feel good about, right? And when you see a child cry and you make them laugh and smile, right, it feels good. That’s what I’ve been doing, now, to collect goodness in my self. So I can stop my nightmares from what I went through. That I collect in my heart, in my head, all these years.
We all have good and bad in us, in me. In me. Have evil – Hitler, or Pol Pot, or Buddha, or Jesus Christ –both, in me, in us. And it’s up to you, up to me, how we are going to decide to live our life. Every day, every minute you get up in the morning, you decide. They say God or Buddha or Mohammed give you the right to live, right? to choose, whether you choose peace or you choose violence will stop if each of us, including those we call politicians, or terrorists, think about those universal rights to choose to live.
To be Buddha, or to be Pol Pot? The world will be no violence, I think free of violence, free of genocide, I’m talking about all of us. This is peacemaking. It’s not pacifists, you know? Active, active, be out there, and still stand firm on what you believe. You have to make your belief heard. You have to be out there and say this is what I believe.
ADRIANNE: Thank you, Arn. I think we’re going to ask one more question, and maybe we’ll have Simona ask this one.
SIMONA: Could you talk about the importance of knowing that you’re not the only one trying to make a difference in the world?
ARN: Sure, sure. It lift a mountain off your shoulder, too. And I don’t want to be the only one. I don’t want. Too complicated, too difficult, you know. I am good at this, because, you know, when you start something, you know like a peace organization, like Cambodian Living Arts, which I am starting now, teaching prostitutes, teaching young people on the streets, to come and learn music, learn traditional music. I do believe music, still a stepping stone, is very important for us to express ourselves through performing, through dancing, through all of that; that’s a good peace strategy.
But I don’t want to be the only one, and you never will be the only one. Because there are how many people now? Five billion people now, in the world, I think? But man can not be proven that we can love each other. For example, remember World Trade Center, it took 35 year to build. It’s proven, man can do all this impossible things. Smart, intelligent. Without love, it took two minutes to destroy it. Two minutes. And look at the lives of the people wasted in that building.
If people do not learn how to love each other, the white, the black, the blue, the green, the Arab, and white – two minutes, everything will be gone. And this world that was created, what, seven days, or how many millions of years ago – whatever, it will go in a minute. In a minute. Man and woman, human being, has not proven that they can love and live with each other. And it takes everybody to be peacemaker, and one by one. One by one. I do believe it.
Can I say just a little thing, just one more thing about why I feel good also, not alone, being a peacemaker. It’s impossible, you need everyone to be the peacemaker. It’s like what I found out about my life, that I was not the only one who suffered this genocide. I wasn’t the only one who went through this in Cambodia, Killing Fields and all of that. I know nothing more, you see, because I was in Cambodia. I feel quite relieved, I remember, when I started sharing my first experiences, with, when I met a kid from Rwanda; when in the earlier years when I was involved with Facing History, I met people like Zezette. She’s Jewish. You know, she survived the Holocaust, and I survived the Cambodia Killing Fields. We are now the best of friends, and whenever I see her, I feel really close to her, and said “Arn, you know, I wish you the best of luck going to tell young people around the world about our suffering.” She said “our suffering.”
So I feel very, not to say good, but I feel relieved a little bit, to know that Cambodia’s not the only place, it’s not the only race, that went through this. I found out about Armenian genocide, I found out about Jewish Holocaust, I work very closely – I got some of the kids out of Rwanda, out of Darfur. And I’ve learned about young people suffering, especially in the Middle East, between my Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters, I hope there’s somebody who will stand up and say, you know, “Cut off the hate.”
ADRIANNE: Well, thank you so much, Arn. I want to say thank you to Sunny, Ankita, and Simona, thank you, thank you.
ARN: Keep up the good work, and continue what you’re doing. You’re doing the right thing now.
ADRIANNE: We also want to thank, again, TakingITGlobal, and STAND, for partnering on this project. And Arn, we just want to thank you. Thank you so much, Arn.