A Deeper Understanding

Samuel Osborne*

When serving as an LDS missionary in Cambodian, a young boy approached my companion and me during a church meeting, asking us to teach the gospel to his mother. I had no idea of the relationship that was about to form. This boy had recently been baptized a member of the LDS church and felt the excitement and happiness that the gospel brings to those who abide by its teachings. He wanted to share his joy with his family, especially his mother who had played such a supportive role in his life.

His mom was an outgoing and bubbly lady. She was always happy to have visitors in her home, especially the missionaries. Being raised a practicing Buddhist, she was hesitant at first to accept what my companion and I were teaching but soon she became interested and–––like her son–––was baptized. Getting to know her was a tremendous blessing for me. For months, we would meet at her house and chat and exchange stories. To this day I still call her mother and she calls me her son. But even after all those meetings there were some things about her past that I didn’t know because they never came up in our conversations. It wasn’t until I joined the Cambodian Oral History Project that I was able to hear stories about her childhood that gave me and even deeper understanding of this great friend of mine.

I learned about her experiences in the Pol Pot regime with her family and how lucky she is to be alive right now. I learned about her inclination towards Christianity as a young girl but also how her parents wouldn’t allow her to associate with Christians. I learned about her wedding, which occurred at the same time as 20 other couples as they all lined up and grasped the hand of a person they had only met seconds before. Knowing this information changed my view dramatically of a woman I deeply cared about.

The history recorded by this project will surely give the world a better broad understanding of Cambodia. But for me, what I am most grateful for about this project is the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the lives of the people I loved so much while serving them for two years.

*Sam Osborne is a former Cambodia LDS missionary and COHP assistant. 

June 2017 Project Updates

In the two and a half years since the formal launch of the project in January 2015, we have seen amazing progress. Bellow are some of the progress by the numbers:

Benchmarks and accomplishments 

* 512 audio interviews in Cambodia
* 18 video interviews in Cambodia
* 2 US refugee video interviews
* 5 student interns (4 BYU Cambodia RMs and 1 other RM)
* Approximately 100 local Cambodian LDS peer leaders
* A local Cambodian LDS church member assistant
* 30-40 RM volunteers (BYU and outside)
* Creation of Youtube channel
* Creation and development of project website (http://cambodianoralhistories.byu.edu)
* Outreach to  and involvement with BYU faculty and students interested in personal histories (e.g., folklore, family history, and anthropology,), including use in writing classes.
* Coordination with Cambodia Family History missionaries

Current Project Foci

* Continue with interview collection (2017 interview goal of hitting the 900 mark)
* Transcriptions
* Translations
* Increase number of video interviews
* Tagging for topics and search functions
* Improvement of website
* Adding a second intern in Northern Cambodia
* More cooperation with US refugee/immigrant communities (SLC and Long Beach, CA)

Thanks to the many project supporters and volunteers!

Dana S. Bourgerie
Project Director
June 23, 2017

New Project Staff



Our current intern, Wesley Crump, is returning to the U.S. and to his studies at Brigham Young University. During his tenure there the project collected around 100 interviews, toward the current number of 314. We are grateful for his hard work in Cambodia and as a volunteer coordinator on the BYU campus. He will continue to be involved in the project.

Beginning late this month, Bryan Brittain will take Wesley’s place in Cambodia as an intern. Like Wesley, Bryan is a former Cambodia LDS missionary. ] He is currently a BYU student from Camus, Washington studying Pre-Business Management (Entrepreneurship). He has worked as an intern with the Cambodia Job Foundation, has taught art and piano, and has started on on-line publishing company.


Cambodian Volunteer Coordinator

This month we also brought on board a local Cambodian Coordinator, Keo Somaly. Somaly lives in Phnom Penh and has studied at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia ( PUC ). She has been active as a project peer leader during the last year and has worked with interns to advance the aims of the project. She has personally interviewed a number of her own family members.

What We Can Learn from the Histories

McKall Harris
Project Volunteer
Brigham Young Univeristy

I have loved being involved with the Cambodian Oral History Project. I think it’s really easy for us to view other people and cultures as completely different than ourselves. We often forget how much we really have in common.

As a former missionary in Cambodia and now as a volunteer for this project, I have come to love the Khmer people. It’s easy to make large, overarching generalizations about specific countries. When people hear about Cambodia, they first think of the Khmer Rouge. Although that is a major part of Cambodia’s history and of the lives of the Khmer people, there is also so much more to these people than just that short period of time in their history.

As I have listened to the stories of Cambodians, I have come to realize that there is much more to them than just memories of the Khmer Rouge. They tell stories of their childhood and their parents, of their studies and their friends. It surprises me how much we really have in common. Many of these people experienced incredible stress in school and spent endless hours trying to learn other languages. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Many of them experienced heartbreak when they had to move houses or when the person they wanted to marry didn’t want to marry them. Hasn’t that happened at least once in our lives?

Within these oral histories, there are definitely sad, heart-wrenching stories. But there are definitely an equal number of heartwarming and happy stories that speak volumes about the resilience and positivity of these people. These stories have allowed me to look beyond broad generalization and have allowed me to really see people. People with lives and families, and yes, a very difficult past. But people who have many of the same fears and stresses and problems as I do. As I have learned more about them and about each of their individual stories, my love for them has grown. I have found greater strength from seeing their commitment and strength. Many of these stories have never been heard before. The Khmer people are willing and anxious to share their experiences and the things they have learned throughout their lives, and this has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn from the things they have shared. This has been an immensely valuable and touching project for me to participate in. I hope that as more people are able to view and read these stories, they will feel an increased love toward and understanding of the Khmer people as well as increased strength to face their own problems.


New Volunteer Coordinator

We would like to introduce a new project team member, Thomas Anthony, who will be coordinating volunteer work. He is studying geospatial intelligence at Brigham Young University, with a minor in Asian Studies. His hobbies include sports, hiking, learning Cambodian, and music. He served an LDS mission in Cambodia from 2013-2015. Please contact him if you are interested in volunteering. We have a critical need for both transcription and Khmer to English translation. Any level of help would be greatly appreciated!

Mentoring Grant and Positions Available

We are pleased to announce that the Cambodia Oral History Project was recently awarded a Brigham Young University “Mentoring Environment Grant (MEG)” for the year 2017. The Office of Research & Creative Activities sponsors these annual grants to facilitate undergraduate work with faculty on research, field studies, or creative projects. This grant, along with a generous anonymous private sector grant in 2016, will allow us to expand collection of interviews by involving more students in the process. We now have approximately 220 interviews that need transcription, translation, and editing. If you are interested in volunteering–––whether it be for one interview or many––please contact our volunteer coordinator.

In addition to the volunteer opportunities, there are several position opportunities for current Brigham Young University students:

  1. Webmaster.

Web development and maintenance; Knowledge of Word Press preferred, but we will consider training if you have technical aptitude and related skills. Knowledge of Khmer helpful.

  1. Technical editor

Video/audio editing and technical enhancement; Managing digital archive; Video sub-titling.

  1. Transcription/Translation Assistant

Managing transcription and translation process. Advanced Khmer language abilities.


For more information contact Project Director, Dr. Dana Bourgerie.




Some Impressions on Remembering

Wesley Crump

As project assistant to the Cambodian Oral History Project, I have had the opportunity to listen to many of the interviews on this website. I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing the stories. Having served two years in Cambodia as a volunteer missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the voices and stories I have listened to bring back many memories of my time there. I have chosen to share a few brief thoughts that I have had while listening.

One of the first things that I noticed in the interviews was a theme of remembrance. They recall things like the name of their primary schools, but often not the age of their parents, or even the names of their grandparents. I have wondered why the difference.

I think that Cambodians don’t remember birthdays because culturally it isn’t very important to know exactly what day they were born. Many, if not most, Cambodians still count age according to the Khmer New Year–––on New Year’s Day, they are one year older–––simple as that. I think that because of this way of reckoning birthdays, many people–––especially the older generations–––don’t remember exactly when they were born.

With respect to the names of their grandparents and other relatives, I think that a good number of them might not have ever known their grandparents’ names because Cambodian culture requires that you call everyone, and especially kin, by their title—whether that’s brother, sister, older aunt, grandma, or grandpa. I believe that this practice of using kinship terms affects whether they remembered family names or not.

What fascinated me was that most people seemed to be able to recall the name of their first school, but not granddad’s name. As to why they, almost unanimously, remember the name of their primary school, my thoughts tend to wax a little more abstract. I believe that as children, we do not really know what worrying is like. We do not yet understand true anxiety. Most of us haven’t been introduced to real evil as little children. I think that the interviewees are no exception to these general statements. But for many of the interviewees their childhood was interrupted or cut short by the events of the Khmer Rouge period. During that time, they all came to know what worrying was. They all came to understand true anxiety, and they all came in very close contact with true evil. Because of these experiences, I tend to believe that those seemingly carefree days as youth became even more vividly burned into their memories. Having seen both sides now, they are quick to recall those memories from the days of light before the darkest of times came.

While all the interviews have essentially the same set of questions, the responses vary greatly in both subject matter and detail. Some interviews include funny snippets of their lives, like But Lumang, who tells the story of how he first met his wife because he dialed the wrong telephone number. Others include sentiments of true love, like Nou Vary’s, who tells of her husband stealing shoes from a Khmer Rouge guard on their wedding day so that his wife could get married in shoes. While many went through terrible ordeals during the Khmer Rouge era, Chea Raet’s story stood out to me as particularly horrific. She was told that her children were being taken away “to learn”, but after seeing their clothing and belongings on other children, she knew they had been killed. She cried out that she didn’t want to live if her kids died, and the guards told her that her day was coming. The day they planned to kill her was the very day that the Vietnamese troops came in and freed the Cambodian people. The Khmer Rouge guards had already taken and tried to kill her and toss her into a hole of other victims, but she regained consciousness in the hole and cried out until some Vietnamese soldiers heard and pulled her out.

Stories like these are not easy to forget.

Despite, and maybe because of, the many terrible things that these people went through, a common theme in the interviews, and in my experience with the Cambodian people in general is that of a longing for peace. Because of their war-torn history, their greatest desire, both nationally and personally, is simply to be sokh and sabbay—‘healthy’ and ‘happy.’ I find this desire both simple and admirable. The “essentials” can indeed be the luxuries.


*Wesley Crump is a former COHP project assistant and Cambodian intern. He also served as   a volunteer LDS Cambodia missionary. 

New Cambodia Intern

After more than five months of service, Tyler Jorgensen has completed his service as Cambodia project managing intern and has returned home to Idaho. During his time in Cambodia he was able to facilitate some some 140 interviews, while involving scores  of family members in the process. We hope that Tyler will continue to be involved as he finishes his studies at Idaho State University. Our sincere thanks for his and his wife Dana’s service to the project at this crucial time.

To pick up where Tyler left off in Cambodia, we would like to announce that Mr. Wesley Crump (a current project assistant) will begin work as a new intern beginning early January 2017. Wesley brings with him understanding of the fundamentals of the project and his experience as missionary in Cambodia (2013-15).  He has been involved from the outset of the project, and has been working as volunteer coordinator on the project since April 2016. He is from Lehi, Utah and is studying studying plant genetics at Brigham Young University. He has interests in outdoor activities and music, and–––of course–––Cambodia language and culture


Dana Scott Bourgerie
Cambodian Oral Histories Project Lead

Cambodia Management Intern

Mr. Matthew Boyd has finished his stint as in-country management intern and returned to the U.S. To take over his duties we have brought on Mr. Tyler Jorgensen. Tyler is a former Cambodia LDS missionary  and currently a secondary education major at Idaho State University. He, like Matt, is bilingual in English and Khmer. He has interests in photography, videography, and is an accomplished Yo-Yo artist!

Thanks to Matt for all his efforts in helping launch the project in Cambodia!