Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 43
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
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Cambodian Human Rights Activist Arn Chorn-Pond to Speak at Peddie

Linda Arntzenius

In 1975, when Arn Chorn-Pond was nine years old, Pol Pot’s Communist guerrilla army took over his homeland.

The Khmer Rouge regime’s “reconstruction” of Cambodia targeted ethnic minorities, the educated, and the middle class. Towns were emptied, schools closed, and temples destroyed. Some two million people (one fifth of the nation) died, including Mr. Chorn-Pond’s family.

Now a human rights activist, and a pioneer in the effort to return traditional music and dance to his country, Mr. Chorn-Pond will address the public as part of the Peddie School’s Friday Speakers Series on October 26, at 7:15 p.m.

The lecture, which is free, will take place in the Efros Auditorium of the Caspersen History House on the school’s Hightstown campus.

Mr. Chorn-Pond was among 500 children who were sent to a forced labor camp. One of only 50 children to survive, he has said that his life in the Khmer Rouge killing fields was saved because of music. He was chosen along with five other children to take flute lessons from an elderly musician who was brought into camp one day by Khmer Rouge soldiers. He learned to play the flute well enough to perform for the soldiers in the evenings — performances that kept him alive as he became a child soldier.

In 1979, when Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, he fled to a refugee camp in Thailand, where he met and was later adopted by Peter Pond, a Lutheran minister and an American aid worker. At 15, he became the first orphaned Cambodian refugee to come to the United States.

After 20 years of living in the United States, Mr. Chorn-Pond returned to Cambodia to revive its musical heritage. He founded Cambodian Living Arts, a movement to encourage masters of traditional music and dance to return to the country to teach their skills to others. The eight-year-old program currently supports 16 master musicians and over 300 students.

In addition, Mr. Chorn-Pond founded Children of War and Peace Makers, a U.S.-based gang-intervention project for Southeast Asian youths. The organization promotes community, activism, and healing for teens.

A recipient of the Reebok Human Rights Award, the Anne Frank Memorial Award, and the Kohl Foundation International Peace Prize, he has spoken around the world on behalf of Amnesty International, among other organizations.

Asian Studies Initiative

Mr. Chorn-Pond’s talk is part of an Asian studies initiative underway at Peddie School.

The school has formed a partnership with a coed residential school for grades 10 to 12 in Shanghai, China.

Next March, about a dozen students will travel to China to conduct fieldwork for a project that they design and develop collaboratively with their counterparts in China.

“Mr. Chorn-Pond’s visit furthers our goal of exposing students not taking Mandarin or our Asian history electives to the Asian Studies program,” said Peter Kraft, chair of the school’s history department. “We hope to infuse the entire curriculum — academic and extra-curricular alike — with opportunities for students and faculty to learn about cultures and peoples with whom they might not be familiar and speakers are an integral part of our Asian studies vision.”

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