A "Shared Suffering, Shared Resilience" forum was held in
Lowell, Mass., earlier this month, the second of ten such fora to be
held targeting Cambodian-Americans, many of whom suffer from
post-traumatic stress following experiences under the Khmer
Post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by war, terrorism or
natural disasters, and affects all nations, communities and
individuals, directly or indirectly. In 2005, 162 million people
worldwide were subjected to experiences that could lead to PTSD,
according to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. Nearly 30
percent of Cambodians suffer from the disorder, according to research by
the World Health Organization.
The "Shared Suffering" forum in Lowell,
held by the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia, sought to
address the issue, and despite poor weather that caused a change in
venue, around 100 people participated.
Dr. Nou Leakhena, founding
director of the institute, said her research showed that 33 years after
the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian communities still struggle with feelings of
hopelessness and helplessness, which lead to damaging behavior such as
gambling,alcoholism and domestic violence.
The "Shared Suffering" fora
are meant to help Khmer Rouge victims share their experiences and to
help prevent future genocides.
"They are a talking testimony of history,
and their stories are valuable not only to history, but to policy-makers
and lawmakers to ensure this kind of atrocity never happens again," she
said. "Not only in the context of Cambodia, but worldwide.
Yoshikami, director of program development at the institute, said the
forum helped communication and a process of healing.
Victims needed "to
communicate more of this story, and all the suffering that
happened...and then the healing process begins," she said.
The forum also
helps educate Americans about world events and immigrant
"For us, that's important work," said Dr. John Kuo Wei
Tchen, founding director of the Asia/Pacific/American Institute at
New York University, which supports the forum. "It can educate the
American public about ongoing issues, Asian Americans in this country
and[reduce] stereotypes of people that we often have.
The forum can
also help as testimony for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, now underway in
Cambodia and set for its first trial, of prison chief Duch, next
"This is a rare opportunity, in which those who have left
Cambodia will have a chance to talk about what happened to them and to
give testimony," Tchen said. "So this forum is a way of preparing for
the actual testimony that people will be giving at the tribunal.
Touch, a Khmer Rouge victim and forum participant, said he was honored
to testify so that a younger generation would be aware of Cambodia's
"Khmers, both those in the United States and those in Cambodia,
need to share," he said. "Khmers in the United States have also
been through difficulties under the Khmer Rouge. Although we are now
in America, our voices can be heard in Cambodia, so this can be
evidence for the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Most of the organizers of the
forum did not experience the Khmer Rouge, but they remain committed to
holding the forum not only for the victims, but to confront a universal
"Well, it's a cultural and moral obligation for me, as a
Cambodian woman, as a Cambodian, as a Cambodian academic," Nou Leakhena
said."It is my responsibility to use my academic status as a
medical sociologist, as a faculty member of a university, to help
promote greater understanding about the Khmer Rouge's history as it
has impacted our communities."
Yoshikami, who is Japanese and was born in
concentration camp during World War II, said she is well aware of the
suffering and denial of rights faced by victims. Her parents, like many
Cambodian parents, do not talk about their traumatic experiences, she
"When you know the reality of what has been happening, it is so
much more important now than ever to really begin to support each
other globally and to maintain human rights and justice around the
world," she said. "Otherwise, we are going to destroy ourselves.
The next "Shared Suffering" forum will be held in Portland, Oregon, in June 2009.