By Heather Pilkington
The East Texan
(Student newspaper of Texas A&M U., Texas, USA)
Those students have or are currently participating in “Service Learning: The Cambodia Project,” a project whose goal is to raise global awareness of Cambodian culture through various service activities.
“New Year Baby” documents the struggles of Socheata Poveu’s family during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, the ruling party in Cambodia in the late 1970s, which was responsible for the deaths of two million people. Poveu’s family escaped to Thailand the day of her birth on April 13, the Cambodian New Year.
“Our goal here is to bring awareness to the importance of the genocide and to the ‘Cambodia Project,’” junior political science major Kristin Lewis said. “In Cambodia, they are just now beginning to teach the genocide to their students.”
The documentary highlights Poveu’s discovery of the secret her family hid from her for 25 years. She discovered that her two “sisters” were actually her cousins, and that her “brother” is actually her half brother through her mother’s first marriage. Poveu and her family then returned to Cambodia to learn the truths about the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.
“I had heard of the terrors the Khmer Rouge did,” graduate theater student Gerald Taylor said. “It was a really great thing to be able to put faces to their story.”
The Khmer Rouge wanted a classless society and forced all Cambodians to move into labor camps. People were encouraged to renounce their parents and break with the past. Anyone who didn’t agree with the Khmer Rouge was put to death, while others died because of disease or lack of food.
Families were frequently separated and arranged marriages were commonplace. To this day, no member of the Khmer Rouge has stood trial, and 75 percent of Cambodia’s population is 25 years old or younger.
Poveu’s parents were forced into marriage because of their differences.
Nin Poveu, Poveu’s father, smuggled his three adopted children and his then-pregnant wife across the border to Thailand in a series of four dangerous trips.
“He was what she (her mother) needed to get us all across,” Poeuv said in the documentary. “He was her strength.”
After immigrating to the U.S., Poveu’s parents instilled American philosophies in their children and enriched their lives with American opportunities; today they live in Dallas, Texas.
“This story is absolutely inspirational,” senior theater major Antonio Wright said.
Students participating in the “Cambodia Project” are currently aiding the development of the Cambodian village Lak 62. They are working with Elizabeth School in Lak 62 to collect school supplies and child-sized flip-flops. To make a donation contact Dr. JoAnn Digeorgio-Lutz in the political science department.