Wesley Crump and Kong Seiha introduce us to the Cambodian Oral History Project and how it can help the people of Cambodia. Be sure to turn on English subtitles!
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.
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!
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:
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.
- Technical editor
Video/audio editing and technical enhancement; Managing digital archive; Video sub-titling.
- Transcription/Translation Assistant
Managing transcription and translation process. Advanced Khmer language abilities.
For more information contact Project Director, Dr. Dana Bourgerie.
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.
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
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!
As of April 10, 2016 we have collected approximately 42 interviews, including eight video interviews. A few audio segments have been posted on under the interview tab at this site. We are seeking volunteers with the following skills to help process the interviews:
- Khmer audio transcription
- Khmer to English translation
- Technical editing of audio (including enhancement)
- Final editing of Khmer and English transcripts
In addition, the project is looking for a bilingual (Khmer-English) intern to work in Phnom Penh for about six months. Airfare and basic living stipend provided.
Prospective volunteers and internship candidates should contact Prof. Dana Bourgerie at cambodia [dot] lead [at] byu [dot] edu or bourgerie@byu.
Welcome to the BYU Cambodia Oral History Project. The project was formally launched in January 2016, seeking to document the lives and stories of the people in Cambodia and especially the generation that came of age in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The project is supported by the Brigham Young University College of Humanities the through the Humanities Center.
We will be posting interviews, transcriptions, and translations in the near future. Interviews are mostly in the subjects primary language (Mainly Khmer, but potentially Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.)