On Tuesday, October 15th, I had the opportunity to hear the story of Kao Vannarin, a Cambodian refugee who, as a young boy, ran from the Khmer Rouge 40 years ago. Kao started his presentation with the history of Cambodia’s rulers and then took us through his journey of torment and triumph. I imagined myself there with him from the way he told the story. From being forced to leave his home in the city, to the fields where he used his wit to get food, to a prison where his parents saved him three days before his execution, to another prison, to the journey with two other boys along the railway to Thailand, to the ten kilometers left to the border that took them three days to reach because they had to carefully step around each mine. At one point on the run, Kao had to wait with an ax over a sleeping guard while the other two boys stole food. To be put in that position as a young boy who had no desire to kill really made me think about what life would be like in a country at war. During his presentation, Kao talked about his escapes across the border, and how there was no Refugees International Japan group there to get him out of the nightmare that he was living. He said this three or four times during the presentation. Luckily (another word that he used frequently through his presentation), he escaped the Khmer Rouge and was eventually adopted by a family in France. Now, Kao lives in Cambodia again and gives back to his country people. His is a story of torment and triumph. Kao Vannarin’s triumph would not have been possible without help from the people who knew of the horrors going on in Cambodia and took the actions to help.
Today, the same story is replayed, but in other parts of the world. Luckily, there are triumphs because of organizations like Refugees International Japan. When Jane comes back from her trips to the refugee camps, I am inspired by her stories of triumph. The hope of the refugees and their triumphs is what made me want to become a volunteer in the organization.
Four years ago, Jane came to talk with students at my university about refugees and Refugees International Japan. Since that time, I have been involved in several events from Journey to Hope, to Rhythm & Hope, to making bracelets at the Roppongi Hill’s Kid’s Park Festival. Being part of RIJ has been a big part of my life in Japan. I’m happy knowing that somewhere, the money that we raise here is going to help someone like Vannarin start a better life. That that person we are helping is going to help someone else, teach others and create a better future for everyone.