Executive Director and co-founder, Mr. Sothea Arun:
Arun was four years old when the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerilla force that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979, entered his village and forced its residents to leave at gunpoint. The men of the village were sent to one work camp, the women to another, and the older children assigned to mobile labor teams.
In the work camps, everyone was forced to do hard labor for up to sixteen hours a day to grow rice; Arun was given the task of collecting animal dung to be used as fertilizer. Twice a day, the laborers received a small cup of watery porridge, while most of what they produced was exported in exchange for military supplies. Children received indoctrination in place of education.
The Khmer Rouge enforced obedience. To disagree, to scavenge for food, to cry at the death of a family member, to fall in love – these offenses could result in death. In less than four years, one quarter of the population died of starvation, torture and execution. Arun survived several weeks in a Khmer Rouge prison as punishment for picking fruit from trees.
When the Khmer Rouge left, Arun began walking in search of his village. One hundred fifty miles later he arrived home, only to learn that no one from his extended family remained. Thirty-six members had died or disappeared.
Arun survived the next years by exchanging his labor for shelter and food. He made his way to the capital city of Phnom Penh, where he joined other youth living on the street. They organized students and monks to clear garbage from the city and, later, to plant trees. They studied together, learning English and business skills, and discussed how to heal their country.
Whenever Arun sees orphaned and abandoned children, he is reminded of his own past. He does not want other children to experience what he did. In 2003, Arun co-founded the Sovann Komar Children’s Village. Sovann Komar means “Golden Children” in the Khmer language.