My name is Chhay Haong, and my story reflects the lives of many of my generation who lived in our country.
I was born in 1965 in Battamboang, Cambodia, one of six brothers and five sisters who are part Cambodian and part Chinese. Although my family was prosperous, when the Khmer Rouge took over in April of 1974, my whole family was banished from the city and sent to live in the countryside.
Food was scarce, and we were a large family, often hungry. We had no eating utensils and we often survived on rice mixed with water and a little salt. We added whatever we could scavenge from the rice fields…field mice, squirrels, snakes, spiders, crabs and frogs because the government had confiscated all of the domestic animals.
Then it got worse. I was taken from my family and forced to live in a youth camp in the mountains where I worked digging irrigation ditches from sunrise to sundown. Food was still scarce, and I had no shoes, one black shirt and pair of pants.
In 1979, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia, I sneaked out of camp and ran for two hours to the village to check that my parents had survived the attacks, being careful to avoid soldiers. If caught, I would have been executed. In the following chaos, we returned to the city and lived on the streets, finally deciding to leave the country. We walked 3 days and 3 nights to the Thai border only to be loaded into a semi and driven back. We kept returning to the border until finally we were admitted to a refugee camp. There, people were dying of starvation but the Red Cross found us and brought us rice.
In 1980 a Mormon family sponsored my family to come to the United States. We moved to Bellevue, Washington. Here I met my wife, Staci, and shared with her my story of my promise to return to my country to visit my grandfather on his 95th birthday. In March of 2002 I returned home for the first time in 22 years. I found my grandfather and cousins living in an 8x10 wooden house with a dirt floor. It was heartbreaking to see them in such poor conditions, so I built them a 1,200 square foot two-story house with running water and a toilet. Then I gave my grandfather a new bed and blanket. On that trip I was also able to help 58 families by providing 100 pound bag of rice and two bottles of soy sauce to each. That was the beginning of my mission of helping my people.
Helping the people still living in poverty in Cambodia helps me heal from the nightmares of my childhood, and the more people I help, the more it helps me. In the past four years we have returned to Cambodia each year, helping progressively more families, and adding school supplies for the children. A generous client now matches each dollar I raise, and my family joins me in my work and my mission. In 2006, we gave over 2,000 families rice and soy sauce, as well as books, pencils, pens and rulers for the school children.
God has blessed me, and has made it possible for me to continue to help the families living in such poverty in Cambodia. I hope to continue to increase the help I can give, and I invite others who would like to share their blessings to join me. Thank You.