Cambodia: An Inspiring Story of Survival with Thoughts from Beth Kanter

by Anis Salvesen

Imagine that between 1863 and 1980, colonization – becoming an exploitable source of riches for an overseas power that viewed your race as inferior –  would turn out to be the least of your country’s worries.   Worse than colonization was when another overseas power decided, about a century later, that it was okay to drop bombs on your people in order to get to enemy forces waging guerilla warfare from your soil.  The result? A couple million people became refugees. The number of dead as a result of the bombings ?  The number will be forever contested.

The bombings occurred in 1969. Six years later, in 1975, something even worse happened.   The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, took over the capital Phnom Penh and forced most of its 2 million inhabitants out of the city.  An article from May of that year which appeared in Time gives some disquieting details:

“Perhaps as many as half of Cambodia’s 7.6 million people have become victims of a massive dislocation, a forced march of city dwellers who have been ordered by the Khmer Rouge government to take to the roads and paths and become rice growers in the countryside.  Even hospitals have been evacuated, and doctors stopped in mid-surgery, so that the patients, some limping, some crawling, could take their part in the newly proclaimed ‘peasant revolution.'”

This was only the beginning of nightmares to come. Initially, the inhabitants of Phnom Penh actually ran into the streets and cheered the arrival of the first Khmer Rouge troops.  In the Times article quoted above, the author wondered about the extent of the “vengeful reprisals,” adding, “The foreign evacuees saw a few bodies on the roads and highways last week, but these could have been “accidental” victims of the forced march to the countryside.” The many deaths resulting from the 1975 famine (yes, a famine too) may have been “accidental,” but the extermination of hundreds of thousands of educated Cambodians was anything but. Approximately 1.7 million people died in Cambodia during the three-year rule of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Of course, I had heard of the horrors in Cambodia, of the Killing Fields, but it was not until recently that the country came to the forefront of my thoughts.  Within a space of a few weeks, references to Cambodia popped up everywhere.  It was like in the movies, where the protagonist has a bad breakup and then literally everywhere they go there are happy couples; everywhere I went, someone mentioned Cambodia.  One of these “Cambodia Connections” was Beth Kanter.

Who is Beth Kanter? For the few of you who don’t know, I’ll share a bit from her website and from Wikispaces.  “Beth is the author of Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits. In 2009, she was named by Fast Company Magazine as one of the most influential women in technology and one of Business Week’s “Voices of Innovation for Social Media.” “In March, 2009, she [did] serve as the 2009 Scholar in Residence for Social Media and Nonprofits for the Packard Foundation.  She was recently named one of the top fifty most influential female bloggers (#29 on the list and the only one focused on the nonprofit sector) and appears on a top ten list of female thought leaders in social media.”

You can imagine how nervous I was to approach Beth when I met her at an event not too long ago.  She was incredibly nice, but I was so nervous, I don’t think I managed to do much more than swap cards.  All the way home I just kept thinking Wow!  I have Beth Kanter’s card! It was not until about 5 days later that I was actually composed enough to write her an e-mail asking her if she would please respond to a few questions about her involvement in Cambodia.

Here is the amazing part.   She actually shared her thoughts with me!  I don’t know how she found the time, but I am incredibly grateful and would like to share what Beth wrote with all of you.

  • How did you first become interested in Cambodia? I know for sure it had nothing to do with Brad and Angelina.

My husband and I adopted our son Harry in 2000 from Cambodia – a couple of years before Angelina discovered Cambodia!

You read about our adoption journey here.

As part of our preparation, I started to research CambodiaCulture.  I started a blog and web site called Cambodia4Kids.

That’s how I connected with Cambodia bloggers.

My son and daughter were living orphanages supported by The Sharing Foundation – and I’ve been a board member for ten years – that’s why I do a lot of fundraising for them online.

So, I got interested in Cambodia because my children are Cambodian – and I felt it was important to give back.

  • If you had 30 seconds in an elevator with someone and wanted to engage them in helping people in Cambodia, what would you say?

Cambodia is country facing devastating poverty – a little bit of money and work goes a long way — especially when I donate to the Sharing Foundation for their work

  • Talking about how badly people in a certain country need help can be
    less than uplifting.  Do you have a story of an inspiring, positive
    experience you could perhaps share with us?

Yes, Leng Sopharath. She is an orphan who lived in the orphanage that my daughter lived in for two years. Our family has sponsored her for college and she will graduate.  That means she will have a better life because of her education.  Here’s a story about her and the first fundraising I ran to send her off to her freshman year.

Education is lever in Cambodia – and I raise money to support The Sharing Foundation’s education program – they educate 1500 kids year

  • This last question is not so focused on Cambodia.  Who was the greatest
    role model in your life?

Dr. Hendrie who is the founder of the Sharing Foundation.

A special thanks to Beth for sharing her thoughts.  In addition to The Sharing Foundation, you can also find great ways to help Cambodians on UniversalGiving.

Sources :  BBCYale Cambodia Genocide Project; Wikipedia;  Time Magazine; Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University

[Blog Post Updated Jan 2017 by Sarah Scott]


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