3 weeks ago I landed back in the USA after a 2 week trip to Cambodia. I went over there with a group of 21 other people on the Steps of Justice mission trip. We had a few reasons for going on this trip:

1. To get away from the USA and Canada to experience another culture and see our culture with different eyes

2. To lear about the different injustices in the world, specifically poverty, which leads to hunger, water issues, human trafficking and slavery

3. To see and learn from other Non-Governent Organizations (NGO’s) on what we can do to give a voice back to those who have had theirs taken from them (the poor and oppressed).

4. To ‘do justice.’ This was a huge one, this was not just an awareness trip, it was a trip where we left something, not just took something. So, we built a house for a very, very poor family.

Many of you probably know about the genocide that took place in Cambodia from 1975-1979. The Khmer Rouge marched into town after the Vietnam war ended and decided to create a communist society. They moved all the workers and laborers out of the city and into the country side, where they forced everyone to become rice farmers and commoners. They abolished money and they also interrogated and executed everyone they felt was against the new government. They took out religious people, professionals, medical personnel, the educated, those who wore glasses or knew a second language and everyone else they saw as “enemies of the people.” In total, over the span of 4 years 1/3 of the population died or was executed, up to 3 million people.

In 1979 Vietnam came in and overthrew the Khmer Rouge party. People started to slowly move back to their homes and into the cities. Many of them still died because they spent time looking for their loved ones instead of finding ways to make money and rebuild their society. One of the places that is known in the country of Cambodia is S-21 prison. S-21 used to be a high school, but when the Khmer Rouge came in they turned it into a prison and interrogation center. Approx. 30,000 people were interrogated and executed at S-21 over a period of 3 years. 7 months after the Khmer Rouge was toppled S-21 was opened as a museum. Seriously, this is unbelievable, only 7 months after.

I have been to a few museums in my time. Most of them are clean, well kept, non-offensive and expensive. Not S-21, S-21 is as it was. There are still blood stains on the floor, the torture devices are still there, the signs that the guards made to instruct the prisoners are still up and the hand cuffs that locked them in their 5X3 foot cells are still on the floor. Going there is like getting kicked in the face. It is hard, it is raw and you can’t even believe that something like this really happened in our lifetime. It doesn’t seem like history, it still seems so fresh and real. I have been to S-21 6 or 7 times and it doesn’t get any easier, I just get more numb, which I hate.

This country has been through so much and continues to go through so much, but she moves on and continues to fight for freedom and life. There are no secrets in Cambodia, just real people coming out of a horrible past and trying to make it a better future. Maybe this is one of the reasons I love Cambodia so much, they are a people who have continually been knocked down, yet continue to get back up. Im thankful for this country and will continue to bring people there, not only to see Cambodia changed, but to see us changed through her.

Photo by Vanessa Hadford

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