Cambodian peacebuilders

The Cambodia Peace Museum will highlight the personal transformation of Cambodian peacebuilders and how their experiences with conflict became their motivation to work for peace, as part of the wider story of peace and reconciliation work in the country. The profiles below, part of the CPCS publication Resilience, are just some of the stories the museum will tell.


Sinthay 2by Seng Sakara

This series of 13 profiles of Cambodian peacebuilders illustrates how some individuals have transformed their experiences with conflict into motivation to build sustainable peace.

It is the culmination of interviews I conducted in the summer of 2011 on an undergraduate fellowship in Cambodia.  I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to the lives and advice of Cambodian peacebuilders, and their enthusiasm and willingness to share their history, feelings, and aspirations with me was more than I could have ever hoped for.

I found such insight in their advice that I struggled to convey concisely the beautiful and moving tales they gave me.

These writings are my attempt to share with others – Khmer, Khmer-Americans, and others interested – the lessons these peacebuilders shared with me and the realizations I had while listening.

Without their participation and support, I would not have learned about the conflicts facing Cambodia as a developing country nor gained a better understanding of my own family’s history.

This experience has been a transformation – thank you very much to the participants, the Haas Centre for Public Service of Stanford University, the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and my family for making it possible.



Long Khet

In memory of running across provinces to escape American carpet bombs, his parents named him Khet.  Khet was too young to remember the KR times, but he grew up in its echoes. He recalled clearly his childhood in post-war Cambodia, where many children were orphans, violence was merely a way to get things done, and there was an immense sense of hopelessness. It was not until he studied at university that he began to better understand his life in connection to the country’s situation: “I talked with friends about the history we learned in class and the country’s situation…and how...
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Yeng Virak

When asked why an education was important to him, Virak said, “It’s valuable because you can use it to make a living; you can sell your expertise or employ yourself…once you have an education, no one can take it from you.” Virak is the executive director of the Cambodian Legal Education Center (CLEC), a local NGO that provides legal information to the Cambodian public.  His dedication to building a more democratic Cambodia stems from his experiences as a young man living in the country during and after war. Virak recalls policies that had severe consequences for ordinary citizens who had...
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Touch Varine

“In 2001, the former Khmer Rouge still dressed like Khmer Rouge. They didn’t wear black anymore, but they wore shoes made from tires, carried things in backpack, and the girls kept their hair short. They did not talk to ordinary villagers because they believed those who were not like them were bad people – capitalists with the government.” That year, Varine was sent to Udor Mean Chey, a KR reconciliation zone where former KR had difficulty re-integrating with the village people.  As an educator with the Cambodian Development Resource Institute’s (CDRI) social development program, she went to help facilitate reconciliation....
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Song Kosal

She knew she was different from the other children.  She could not play like they played, and she did not look the same: she used her hands to help move through the house. “The most difficult part is feeling shy,” she explained.  “I don’t want people to look at me and see only my missing leg…I am more than that. I am the same as you.” Kosal was born in 1984, the fourth of six children in a rice farming family. When she was five, she was injured by a landmine while helping her mother in the rice fields. Her...
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Neou Kassie

Kassie pointed out the irony in how speaking English had been both a curse and a gift in his lifetime.  On one hand, it was the reason he was suspected of being CIA and tortured for confession during the KR era. On the other, it is the language he’s used to broadcast his story, traveling across the world to educate audiences about humanity and hope.  Kassie is the founder of the Cambodian Institute of Human Rights, a civil organization that has reached out to several provinces with workshops on human rights and made strides to include human rights education in...
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Neb Sinthay

Sinthay began his work with weapons reduction in late 1998, doing fieldwork for a study on the feasibility of removing guns in Cambodian civil society. He says, “I joined the research because I was worried about the increase in gun-use in Cambodia.” He explains that it was especially apparent between1993 and 1998, the years between the UN sponsored elections and the coup d’etat, when armed robberies, brawls, and small conflicts would often end in bullet wounds. Sinthay’s participation in the study was crucial, as he was the mediator between arms dealers and the researchers: “I used my experience as a...
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Meas Sokeo

Sokeo said that in many ways, it would have been easier to live inside the Cham community than outside it: “With other Cham feel safe to share my thoughts.  I can talk about my future, our community, our religion, and I do not feel threatened…outside it is different.” He explained that Cham Muslims, an ethnic and religious minority in Cambodia, live in peaceful communities and usually do not venture outside them to do business or get more schooling, many times because they face discrimination for their religious practices. Sokeo’s initial motivation to leave home was to get educated for an...
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Khus Thida

“All news stopped coming out of Cambodia when the border was sealed toward the end of May [1975],”  Thida recalled of her experience living in Thailand while Cambodia fell to communism. “I lost contact with my family two months before that and had no idea of the cruelty they were living through.” In 1979, Thida began working for the refugee service in the American Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, hoping to find her family. She dedicated her efforts to convincing the Thai government to end the forceful return of Cambodian refugees back into Cambodia. By distributing the names of refugees with...
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Huy Romduoi

For 10 years, Romduol has been working to strengthen communication between government officials, citizens, community leaders, and NGO staff. Through looking at local case studies, her workshops use points of disagreement as places to develop problem solving and communication skills. She focuses on helping participants explore their own issues of trust and understanding. Romduol is a senior program officer and training team leader for Working for Peace (WFP), a social development programme under the Cambodian Development Resource Institute. She has dedicated herself to the program’s success and continuation, explaining that, “Cambodians must be able to communicate across divides. That way...
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Huot Thavory

By 1970, Thavory could not remember how many times she had taken refuge in trenches to escape the American bombs. She turned 15 that year and the Khmer Rouge revolution had just reached her village in Kampong Thom. They recruited her and other village youth to help further the movement: “At night I traveled to give speeches at surrounding villages.  I spoke about the injustice of the carpet bombing, about the capitalists taking all the money while the farmers did the work, and how we should rise against Lol Nol and the capitalist suppressors.” Thavory became disenchanted with the movement...
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Cheang Sokha

Sokha was eager to share his journal.  In it was an  assortment of quotes that he has been collecting for over 20 years.  He said that he doesn’t recall specific teachers who showed him how to be a leader or what to value in life, but that words from various books, politicians, and scholars are his guide.  When he was younger, he loved reading novels about protagonists who were “brave” and “fought for the people.” They became his role models. At 10 years old, Sokha survived the Khmer Rouge years. He grew up during the civil war, in an environment...
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Chea Vannath

For Vannath, neither her extensive activism for democracy nor her leadership in Cambodian civil society was part of any plan. Growing up in a devout Buddhist family, she was taught early on that change is the only certainty.  She did not dream of her future and says simply, “dreaming and planning is not my type…I choose day by day.” Vannath has spent almost 20 years helping to reconstruct and rehabilitate her war-torn country. As president of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections in the early 90s, she monitored election processes in order to improve transparency. Then, as president of...
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