I began working with the Cambodia Oral History Project in December 2016. I started out as the Volunteer Coordinator at BYU and quickly learned the importance of the project. I began listening to interviews and came across a woman that I had met while I served and LDS Church missionary in Cambodia. This woman told stories that I had heard before, but I also heard stories that she never told me. Feelings of nostalgia came over me as I was reminded of her difficult life upbringing in Cambodia. I immediately knew that I wanted to be more involved with this project.
Months went by and I was able to head to Cambodia as the project intern. Being in Cambodia, meeting all of the Project staff, and seeing the effect that we were having in the lives of the people in Cambodia was amazing. I was able to travel throughout Cambodia and meet different peer leaders who all had different experiences with the project. I learned that this project was not only rewarding for those that were able to share their stories, but also to the peer leaders. The peer leaders love to work with the Cambodia Oral History Project. They see it as an opportunity to grow in many different ways. They develop countless skills working with the project, which will serve them for the rest of their lives. I saw people who didn’t have very strong people skills grow to love talking with others and begin to care for those around them. I saw people who had never used a computer before learn to type in both Khmer and English, and even learn the essentials of email. These skills seemed so simple to me, but this is because I have been using computers since I was a small child. The project is helping Cambodians in numerous ways that seem trivial, but have a lasting impact.
The project is special in that we are interviewing the older generation of Cambodia. Some of these people are well stricken in age and some have even passed away after we have interviewed them. The interviews of those that have passed away have become small miracles for their families. Families are able to listen to their mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, brother, or sister. It’s a rare experience for anyone. But listening to the stories of these people brings a unique feeling of comfort and joy.
I was able to see this blessing first hand. I had recently found a new peer leader and she began interviewing family and friends that she felt comfortable with. The peer leader interviewed a woman of about 38 years old, who was also one of her best friends. The peer leader felt that it was important to interview her, even though she was relatively young. Sadly, just two weeks after the interview, this woman became very ill and suddenly died. It was tragic for all those around her. However, the family was grateful to have her life story in an audible interview. Immediately we were able to take the interview to the family. The interview was simple, but everyone felt joy and comfort in hearing her voice again.
The experiences I had and the friends I made through my internship in Cambodia are unforgettable. I grew as an individual in many different ways. I’ll always be grateful for my experience there. And now, I am continuously grateful for a job where I can work with Cambodians and learn from their touching and valuable experiences.
* Thomas Anthony is a BYU student majoring in Geography (Geospatial Intelligence) and served previously as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Cambodia. He also served as a project intern in Phnom Penh.