Survivor of Khmer Rouge terror to speak at Fairfield University Convocation


Author Loung Ung, a survivor of Pol Pot's genocidal regime in Cambodia during the 1970s, will speak at Fairfield University's annual Fall Convocation, to be held Friday, Sept. 7 at 3:30 p.m. on Bellarmine Lawn.

In her first book, "First They Killed My Father," Ung recalls a happy and comfortable early childhood as one of seven children born to a government official and his wife. Then the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh in 1975 and her family was forced to disperse in order to survive. Ung was originally sent to a work camp with several of her brothers and sisters, but by eight years old, "I was an orphan so lost, hurt and full of rage that I was pulled out of the children's work camp and placed in a child-soldier's training camp."

The Convocation is particularly geared to students in the incoming Class of 2011, who each received a copy of Ung's latest book, "Lucky Child," to read over the summer. They, along with faculty and other students, have been invited to discuss their reactions to the book on a Fairfield University blog hosted by the DiMenna-Nyselius Library. Entitled, Your Voice Counts @ Fairfield U (http://libraryfairfieldu.typepad.com/your_voice_counts_2007/), the blog is one of several activities that make up their orientation program. One student, Josh Kenney, writing for the blog, said he found Loung Ung's sister, Chou, remarkable for enduring the aftermath of the Khymer Rouge without a mother or father.

In "Lucky Child," Ung outlines her experience as a Cambodian refugee in the United States. As she details her adjustment to life in America, she describes the devastating memories that haunt her, and her subsequent struggles with anger, guilt, fear, and sadness. She also gives voice to her beloved older sister, Chou, whose life could so easily have been hers. Throughout, Ung struggles to reconcile her luck at coming to the United States with her guilt at having left her sister and three surviving siblings to carry on in post-war Cambodia.

"It would be 15 years before I would be reunited with my sister again in 1995," she writes. "Fifteen years of her living in a squalid village with no electricity or running water. Fifteen years of me in the United States living the American dream. It is my obsession with those 15 years that has taken me back to Cambodia over 20 times."

In a letter to the Class of 2011, Dean of Freshmen Debnam Chappell, Ph.D., reminded students that one of Fairfield's goals is to foster a sense of social responsibility. "The Jesuit mission encourages a person's use of knowledge in the service of others, especially those who are less fortunate, as well as the commitment to social justice and social change when problems exist," she said.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 6, 2007

Vol. 40, No. 15