Cambodian genocide survivor and author inspires students

BY ALEJANDRO MEZA AGUILAR 

STAFF WRITER

Loung Ung is survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime and author of “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.” She came to College of the Desert to give a speech and a book signing. Ung delivered a speech about her experience with the Khmer Regime and how she was forced into being a child soldier and escaped when she was 19-years-old.

Ung came to speak to the students about her success as an author. She told the students why she got into writing, “It was my therapy. It was the only place where I could shed the tears. I wrote my tears, I wrote my anger and I wrote my sadness.”

Ung was rejected by 24 publishers until someone gave her book a chance. Her work then got the attention of actress Angelina Jolie and was adapted into a movie on Netflix with the same book title. Ung gave students the insight of refugee integration into the U.S.

In the process her name was switched from Ung Loung to Loung Ung. She spoke of the traumatic experience of being trained as a child soldier and escaping the training camp after she fought off a rape attempt from one of the Khmer soldiers. She dealt with anxiety about food insecurity since she was accustomed to scavenging for her meals. Loung addressed the cause of insecurity to students by saying, “If there are so many things wrong with us then how come we are here strong, growing and still creating a really wonderful world? I encourage you to be kind, compassionate and to educate yourselves and your community on what it takes to be valuable as a human being.”

Loung Ung has visited her homeland of Cambodia around 30 times to help with her activism to end violence towards women, help child soldiers, and create a land mine free world. Loung has been a writer for the Academy Emmy nominated documentary Girl Rising which is about forced marriage, domestic slavery, sex trafficking, and gender violence and the power of education. Loung was selected by World Economic Forum as one of the 100 Youth Leaders of Tomorrow.

She has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, London Sunday Times, Glamour, CNN, Nightline, and NPR’s Weekend Edition just to name a few.

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