PULLMAN, Wash. – Arn Chorn-Pond insists that everyone has a story. But his is more dramatic than most. A survivor of the “Killing Fields,” Chorn-Pond will tell his story at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, in the CUB senior ballroom as keynote speaker for WSU’s International Education Week.
Just nine years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia, Chorn-Pond spent the next five years fighting for survival in unimaginably brutal conditions. For the past two decades, he has been a human rights activist and advocate for the survival of Cambodian performing arts.
From 1975 to 1979, more than 1.7 million of Chorn-Pond’s countrymenincluding his parents and nine of his 11 siblings, as well as an estimated 90 percent of the country’s performing artistswere killed by the Khmer Rouge.
Born into a family of fourth-generation musicians, Chorn-Pond survived early on because his captors enjoyed the music he played on his flute. Later, he survived because he did what he had to do, including escaping to the jungles of Thailand where he lived a feral existence until he was found, nearly dead, and taken to a refugee camp in late 1980.
At the camp he met Peter L. Pond, a minister and U.S. aid worker, who brought him to New Hampshire when he was 14 years old and formally adopted him in 1984. A 2003 documentary, “The Flute Player,” tells the devastating story of Chorn-Pond’s early years, as well as his painful struggle to find a new life.
Dan Maher, advisor to the International Student Council, said the council executive team started with a list of about 15 potential speakers, but after a spirited debate decided that Chorn-Pond’s story would resonate with a large and diverse audience.
“People like the survival piece” of his story, Maher said, “and the resilience piece. He talks a lot about knowing your culture and telling your story.”
Lauren Beebe, a member of the International Student Council executive team, said she watched “The Flute Player” online and was inspired by Chorn-Pond’s ability to draw strength from music.
Music saved his life the first time, she said, when he played his flute in the work camps. And music saved his life a second time after he got to the States and was despondent over what he had witnessed and all he had lost.
“It’s a really amazing opportunity for people to hear this man speak,” she said.
Chorn-Pond, who now divides his time between the United States and Cambodia, has started several human rights organizations, including Children of War. In 1998 he founded Cambodian Living Arts, which is dedicated to preserving, teaching and nurturing new expressions of Cambodian arts.
He is recipient of the Amnesty International Human Rights Award, the Reebok Human Rights Award, the Anne Frank Memorial Award, and the Kohl Foundation International Peace Prize.
Links to stories about Arn Chorn-Pond:
NPR, Fresh Air, 2003 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1344101
Facing History and Ourselves, 2008 http://btc.facinghistory.org/teachers/biographies/arn