Sedtha Long survived the Khmer Rouge by becoming a "perfect slave". In the years since he has dedicated his life to rebuilding the country he watched so brutally torn down. His NGO, the Build Your Future Today Center, focusses on childhood education and has had a positive impact on an estimated 50,000 people.
Tragedy and Triumph has grown out of Sedtha's personal story of perseverance and compassion. His Tragedy and Triumph.
Kang Yon watched his pagoda get torn apart by the Khmer Rouge and thirty years later donned the saffron robes as a way to help heal the pain from losing family and friends.
After being seperated from his family for all four years of the Khmer Rogue, Chhang Youk was able to escape to the United States, hitching a ride to the Thai border with five dollars in his pocket. He has since returned to establish the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM), which works closely with the currrent UN Tribunal providing evidence against the former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial.
"I have seen many things...many people disappeared from my village...when I tell my children, they didn’t believe me, they say ‘How can this be possible? How can they kill so many?’ but I insisted; it’s important for them to know the history...we cannot forget the history"
Sok Sokhom joined the Khmer Rouge as a teenager with his family when they took over his village during the civil war. His job under the Khmer Rouge's regime was mainly driving transport trucks and he did his best not to question orders. In the years afterwards, however, he worked within the Khmer Rouge insurgency as a radio operator and a soldier. He lost his leg while in a skirmish to a landmine likely laid by the Khmer Rouge themselves.
The topic of the Khmer Rouge's crimes is a touchy one, as though Sokhom does recognize the devastation they wrought, he still insists "I identify myself as a Khmer Rouge".
The Killing Caves
Photographed is a memorial to those killed inside of Phnom Sampeau, also known as “The Killing Cave”. Here the Khmer Rouge took their victims to a ledge overlooking the caves and threw them down into caverns. Some would be executed before being dumped into the cave, others died from the impact of the fall.
Ing-So Vann poses with a photo albumn full of photographs from before the Khmer Rouge. Had her photographs been discovered by her cadre, she would have been executed. Her husband, photographed with her in the albumn was killed during the Khmer Rouge for being a teacher. This albumn is all she has left to remember him and many other family members who died.
S-21, or Security Center 21, was the most notorious Khmer Rouge prison. It was here that the Khmer Rouge sent all of their suspected 'spies'. Upon arrival, the guards would hand the incoming prisoners verdicts and then torture them until they 'confessed' to the imagined crimes. 14,000 went in and seven came out. Today, only two of those seven are alive. Chum Mey, one of those two survivors stands outside the former prison with his book "Surivor".
Toch Pheng joined the monkhood when he was 22 to serve his community. Following in his father’s footsteps, he quickly became a central figure in his village, but even being a monk wouldn’t spare him from the Khmer Rouge.
Toch remembers with painful clarity watching his comrades collapse out of exhaustion, the stress of the work taking its final toll. Disrobed and disallowed any religious expression, Toch wasn’t even able to honor their spirits in death.
"The most painful part was that I couldn't do anything to help...I was powerless."
On the morning of the 17th of April, 1975, as the Khmer Rouge were overrunning the last parts of the city, Sakhem was still firing at the Khmer Rouge's soldiers. "I never lost faith. We never thought we would lose". It wasn't until shots were coming at him from two directions that he finally gave up the fight. Abandoning his uniform, he slipped into the crowds of people thronging the streets and escaped.
"Everything I did before and do now, I do for my country. I was born in Cambodia and I will die in Cambodia."
Som Touch "Tep"
For many hope drove them to perservere. It gave them a purpose; something to live for. However, that hope could also be devastating. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, families across the country struggled to find each other. Months, years and even decades would go by as men women and children tried to reconnect the shattered dots of their families. Tens of thousands would never get the chance. Tep, one of Sedtha's closest friends from during the Khmer Rouge, is one of them.