Heidelberg University is observing Genocide Awareness Week with a series of events that recall the atrocities that took place in Cambodia in the 1970s. The annual observance revisits genocides that have occurred in various parts of the world.
Tuesday evening, a readers' theatre presentation, "April 17: Stories from the Cambodian Genocide," was staged.
Chris Tucci, professor of theater at Heidelberg, wrote the script based on the book "First They Killed My Father" by Loung Ung.
PHOTO BY ROB LEDWEDGE
Hoeur Kim (right) speaks to area high school students Wednesday while her daughter, Sreng Kim-Chhay, looks on. The women are to present “Escaping the Killing Fields: A Daughter and Mother Tell Their Stories” this evening at Heidelberg University.
The drama recalls April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took over the Cambodian government. The military began a purge that claimed more than 20 percent of the Cambodian people over a period of nearly four years.
Tucci, Morgan LaFlure, Marina Richley and Lindsay Kagy narrated the chaos of the refugees who were forced out of their homes and took the voices of a Cambodian family, the Ungs.
One character is Loung Ung, who was 5 years old when her family was driven out of the city and relocated to work camps.
The sights, sounds and scents of a quiet city street are described at the opening of the play, along with appropriate sound effects, music and recorded Cambodian dialogue.
Conflict quickly arises when one of the children questions her father about "the bombs."
Although he tries to explain, he cannot bring himself to tell her the truth about war. He calls the invading soldiers "the destroyers of things."
Then, one day, Cambodian citizens are ordered to pack their belongings and leave. The Ungs load up their truck and depart.
During the night, the sounds of gunfire awaken them as they try to sleep in the vehicle. People who have refused to leave have been shot.
The sun rises on a stream of refugees crowding the roadways. Soldiers order the able-bodied to leave the elderly and the sick behind. When the truck runs out of gasoline, the family continues on foot as food supplies dwindle.
Next, representatives of the Khmer Rouge question all the refugees to weed out anyone who appears to be a threat or just a burden to the new regime.
Ung tells his family not to divulge their real names or hometown. They are not talk about returning home.
"You have to forget home," he says.
In the work camps, everyone is required to wear the same clothing and follow many restrictions. Discipline and hard work are the basic rules for all.
At the end of the work day, refugees are expected to attend "lessons" to learn what their new leaders expect from citizens.
All forms of media are censored. Young men are conscripted into the military. Soldiers demand women and girls to help them "pick corn" and other tasks, but the women who do return home have been ravaged physically.
Starvation is rampant, executions continue, and bodies pile up in the communities.
When Ung is called away to assist the soldiers, he anticipates his death and
bids a final goodbye to his wife and children.
As the story concludes, the children no longer have to lie about being orphans.
Thirty-seven years later
The dramatic production gives only a glimpse of the real horrors the Cambodian people endured, but two women who survived the genocide have been invited to speak about their experiences at 7 p.m. today in Seiberling Gymnasium.
Sreng Kim-Chhay and her mother, Hoeur Kim, are to present "Escaping the Killing Fields: A Daughter and Mother Tell Their Stories."
The women describe their own flight from their home and the toll the trauma took on their family.
Mr. Kim was executed, as were all but one of the 12 members of his family. His one brother who had moved to the United States before the genocide, was able
to sponsor the remaining members of Hoeur Kim's family in relocating to Minnesota.
Hoeur was able to save her four youngest children, including Sreng, who actually witnessed her father's murder. She was 6 or 7 years old at the time.
After spending four years in labor camps and the jungle, they were reunited in 1979 and flown to the U.S. They arrived in Minnesota in October with no belongings and no knowledge of English. Hoeur was very ill, but she obtained treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
The Kim children were educated in American schools and went on to college to pursue their adult careers.
Sreng was a member of the Heidelberg's division of student affairs from 1999-2009. She now is an advisor at Stark College in North Canton.
Sreng Kim-Chhay has a child of her own whose upbringing differs dramatically from her own.
Sreng and her mother have made three trips back to Cambodia in search of other relatives who may have survived, but they have had limited success.
Mrs. Kim's message to high school students Wednesday was to appreciate all the advantages they have as Americans, to value their education and to "be at peace with one another" in their own community.
She encouraged students to make a differnce for a more peaceful world in the future.
In spite of international efforts to stop modern-day genocides, the violence continues in countries such as Bolivia, Syria, Burma, Ethiopia and Libya.
Tonight's program, which is free, is a reminder the atrocities of war have not been eliminated.