For the first time, the wife of the US ambassador to Cambodia is herself a Cambodian.
Sotie Heidt, whose family name is Kenmano, fled the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s and resettled in the United States.
She lost both parents and other relatives to the Khmer Rouge, and she decided when she left the refugee camp on the border she would pursue higher education.
“When my parents were alive, they always said that only the well-educated can get themselves out of difficulty, no matter what,” Sotie told VOA Khmer in an interview.
At the start of her second year living in the US, she enrolled at Evergreen State College, in Washington. After graduating from Cornell University with a master’s degree, she moved back to Cambodia, in 1997, where she met her husband, William Heidt, who was working at the embassy.
The couple returned to Cambodia late last year, when William began his mission as ambassador.
Sotie says she has never forgotten her homeland, and she plans to help young Cambodian women be successful. She hopes to help connect young women with successful female mentors, to give them opportunities to grow professionally.
“Since I have been here, I have talked to younger female students on how to be successful in life,” she said. “However, I also have been impressed that there are many successful people. Not just ‘oknha,’ who are called successful, but there are also many other successful business [women], or those who work in the ministries, who feel proud to work in those jobs.”
There are too few channels to connect young women to older, successful women, a fact that Sotie hopes to remedy. She also hopes to help the elderly and young children, by connecting them to American philanthropists.
She will encourage young women to stay in school, to fight against a high school dropout rate of around 25 percent.
And she thinks it is time that Cambodia sheds its dark past and develop a vision going forward, she said.
“I think it’s been a long time already,” she said. “Neither the internationals or Cambodians need to mention genocide whenever they talk about Cambodia,” she said. Rather, she would like Cambodia to be known for its beauty, its tourism and its economic opportunities.