Human Rights Activist Delivers Powerful Message To Bourne High Schoolers
By: PATRICIA PEAL, April 16, 2014
A Cambodian refugee who survived the brutality of the Khmer Rouge as a young child, and whose life story inspired the book “Never Fall Down,” brought lessons in humility, resilience and the strength of the human spirit to Bourne High School this week.
Amnesty International representative Arn Chorn-Pond graced the auditorium stage Monday as keynote speaker for the school’s first Model United Nations Conference.
“Someone brings you breakfast every morning and when they give it to you they tell you they love you. American students don’t know how good they have it. You are like the princess and the prince, the way you are treated. Well, if this is the way you are treated, this is the way you should behave. Some of you don’t know how lucky you are,” Mr. Pond said to his audience of high school students, teachers and parents. “Well, I was just like you once.”
Mr. Pond is a survivor of the war and destruction brought to Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge 25 years ago. Since his escape at age 12, and later adoption in the US, he has become a leading human rights activist, telling his story so that others may learn from it.
His sometimes harrowing accounts of the atrocities of the war and how he personally experienced it as a child, led many in the high school audience to choke up with tears. He lived in a city until the soldiers forced everyone to evacuate into the countryside. They were forced to work in farm fields for weeks without food. He watched his little sister die of starvation and never saw his brother or parents again. He witnessed brutal murders. He learned to play a wooden flute to please the soldiers and to drown out people’s screams. Soldiers spared his life because he learned to play music better than others. The others were executed.
But his journey did not end there. Coming to an American high school felt like being in a new and different war zone. His language barrier, being called names, and being told to go home made him feel homeless and suicidal. He was getting into trouble and getting angrier by the minute.
His adoptive father finally told him to tell people his story, to let out his feelings and share his experience. Mr. Pond finally felt his first hint of acceptance in America after speaking for the first time at his church when a little girl put her arms around him and told him she felt sorry for what he had been through. Mr. Pond has been telling his story ever since to audiences all over the world. His story inspired the book “Never Fall Down” by Patricia McCormick. The book was required reading at Bourne High School before Mr. Pond’s visit.
“This was an experience that left me with tears of pain, and happiness. This has made me feel stronger about helping others, and this experience will be in my heart forever.” student Christian T. Owens said.
“Hearing his story about keeping the tiger inside you tame makes me want to work to keep the tiger inside me tame, and give more love to the people that need it, and not take things for granted.” student Dylan M. Gorton said.
Many young men attending the keynote speech were audibly supportive of Mr. Pond. When there was an opportunity to clap for the guest speaker, the young men in the audience rose to their feet first and shouted their praise the loudest. They cheered for his survival, for his bravery and for his success in putting his life back together after so many tragedies.
“Arn’s visit was more than just a book talk or a keynote address for these kids. His visit will stay with them forever... While our kids have not experienced the things Arn has, one thing we all have in common is the capacity to love one another, and to forgive and be the best person we can be each day. That was his message today. I won’t soon forget his visit or the book, nor will the kids,” said Jennifer McDonald, English teacher and Key Club advisor.
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Lisa J. DiBiasio, humanities director and Erin Kennedy, social studies teacher were co-advisors for the Model UN Conference and received help from Ms. McDonald and the Key Club in the effort to bring Mr. Pond to the school and the conference. They are credited by their administration and peers for opening the high school up to the world in this educational manner.
Mr. Pond is currently on a mission to return to Cambodia and bring back the traditional music of the country that was lost when the war came through. He brings native music masters through the country on what he calls a Magical Musical Bus. “When I was at my lowest point I never could have dreamed that someday, in my lifetime, music and words could be more powerful than bullets,” Mr. Pond said.
The Key Club is already planning to do some fundraising for Mr. Pond’s Magic Musical Bus this spring and long-range plans are underway for a service trip to Cambodia.