May 11, 2007
By Anna Marie Finley
The fact that Cambodian genocide survivor Dith Pran is still alive is miraculous. During Cambodian massacres under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, portrayed in the movie "The Killing Fields," his life was constantly on the line.
On Tuesday, May 15, at 7:30 p.m. in the Baker University Center Ballroom, Pran will share his story as the keynote speaker for 2007 International Week. A reception and book signing will follow his speech.
Born in 1942 in the historic district of Angkor Wath, Pran became a war correspondent for The New York Times when civil war tore through Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. He covered the war through 1975 until he was arrested, eventually released and expelled from Cambodia.
During the next three years, Pran suffered in labor camps, nearly starved and endured the execution of his brothers and sister by the Khmer regime. He then escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand, where he was reunited with his New York Times partner Sydney Schanberg, who fulfilled a promise to Pran and brought the story of the Cambodian holocaust back to the United States. He became known to Westerners after the 1980 publication of Sydney's story titled the "Life and Death of Dith Pran" in New York magazine. It became the basis of the Academy Award-winning 1984 film "The Killing Fields."
The Cambodian holocaust took the lives of an estimated 1.7 million people from April 17, 1975, through Jan. 7, 1979, but the tragic story continues, and Pran's mission is to bring hope to Cambodian people still suffering. He was appointed the Goodwill Ambassador for Refugees in 1985 and testified before the House of Representatives about the situation.
Despite his work, Pran does not see himself as a hero or a politician. Instead, he thinks of himself as a messenger, speaking for the Cambodian people and spreading awareness of Cambodia's holocaust through the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project. The project brings genocide and holocaust awareness to American students through speakers and genocide education. Pran also spreads the message in his 1997 book, "Children of the Killing Fields," a compilation of survivor's memoirs.
For people who don't know the history of the Cambodian holocaust, and may be unaware of genocide occurring around the world even today, Pran's keynote lecture promises to be an eye-opening experience.