Today two of the three teams in our service-learning class watched the movie “First They Killed My Father”. These two teams are going to do their projects in Cambodia in June. Hence they are watching the movie as part of their preparation. For those who are not familiar with the movie, it is a biographical and historical story of the Cambodian Genocide from 1975 to 1979, from the perspective of Loung Ung, directed by Angelina Jolie, which came out in 2017.
Loung was 7 at the time, one of 7 children of a government official. They had to flee from Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge took over. They ended up in a labour camp in the country side, doing hard labour with very little to eat. At one point her father was taken away, ostensibly to help to build a bridge. But everyone knew that he would be dead soon. Hence the title of the movie, which was made from a book of the same name. One of the children died in the camp. The mother and another child disappeared. The children were separated, more than once. Some of the children were re-united at the end.
In the past, we used to watch “The Killing Fields”. In comparison, the images of “First They Killed My Father” are less stark, the colour brighter and warmer, and the violence less in-your-face. Over all, however, the scenes, the voices, and the stories seem realistic. I think it helps our students to understand what happened in the Genocide. They still have to figure out why it happened, and why it still matters today, 40 years after it happened.
Both movies are highly recommended for anyone who wishes to understand Cambodia. If one has to choose, the newer movie is easier to watch, emotionally.
For this year, one of the teams will be building a community learning centre out of a used cargo container, together with another team from the University of Maryland. The other team will be building solar electrical systems, this time in the form of a micro-grid, led by a professor from Electrical Engineering.
In 2010, we stumbled into Cambodia. By now, we have been there so many times, done so many projects, made so many good friends - many of whom are Christians and missionaries, seen so many of our students changed so much by the experience, witnessed so much of God’s work down there, that it has become part of our lives. I do not regret it for a moment.