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Organizing the Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development

Arn Chorn-Pond, Cambodian Survivor

Cambodia, for forty or fifty years, I wasn't able to become citizen. I'm very happy to be American citizen, and that's the greatest feeling. I want to be a good American, so I heard "bad American" around, around the world, too, that they don't like Americans very much. That's politics side of it. I want to be a good American.

So I have a chance to go back to my country to help out, and to be American is very difficult to go back there and to be humble. I'm fast; my attitude is sort of changing. I didn't even know. The Cambodians are still very humble, very sweet, very nice, very kind to people there. When I go there, I feel different, but I'm aware of it. That was very good. To be American is not easy. You work here, you're like compulsive worker. You go there, if you say, "Oh, let me do this, let me do that, let me teach you about this, about that," they say, "No, no." So I learned very quickly, and lucky I have this skill, and I learn how to be humble.

I work with people, with young people over there. CVCD, Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development, that's the name of the organization that I co-founded with thirty indigenous local youth, orphans and some prostitutes, to help out, to have this, too. I wouldn't -- it would not be successful if I have an attitude like I do here (laughs), you know. In a way, like egocentric kind of attitude that I have, I identify in me. But I say, "Whatever you need me, this is my skill I have, and maybe I have some money, too, to help out in America." And I told them I'm from America, and I come back and I'm trying to help out. "Whatever you need my help, I will be here."

So they told me, "This street has not been cleaned since forty years. There's a lot of bones there," and we start cleaning up the street. In the beginning I pull off -- we pull off 500 people the first time. The soldiers came with the guns, and they'd never seen young people assemble, 500 of them assemble in one place like that. They were scared, the government. But we told them -- with the guns; they are ready to shoot us -- and I told them, "We just plan to clean the street. That's it. You can stay and watch, or you can help." They were waiting there, hundreds of them, with the guns already, going to shoot us, but we just slowly, quietly, just pick up the trash. If they shoot, I don't know what we're gonna do.

So we pick up the trash and they didn't shoot, and some of the military, monks and nuns and foreigners also come and help cleaning after a while, after we did it like four or five hours, like they help out, too. Because people get sick of the smell and of the -- you know, there are literally shit on the street, and we had nothing. We do it all with our hands, our own hands. And I think people, they get sick of that, too, and they help out. This one lady, a French lady, also help out.

And how we started with the cleaning of the street, right now they have six projects. It grew. We started with 30 kids in 1993. The money, that $2 billion that should be given to an organization like the CVCD. But no. $2 billion, they give to the politicians, and also they give to the peacekeeping force. Peacekeeping force, they make $30,000 a year. They have $100 pocket money every day. $100 is like two or three months' pay for the Cambodian, for two or three people. They have one day spend. And what they spend on? They spend on prostitutes. They have too much money. So it was a problem there. And I'm trying to help the prostitutes to make -- to have jobs for them and stuff like that.

So, AIDS is a big problem there, too, and AIDS will be a second killing field and mines will be a third killing field for us. But the thing is that we clean up the street, and now it grew. It grew. The organization grew to -- after three years, it grew to 40,000 members right now -- 50,000 members right now. I'm very happy about it.

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About Arn Chorn-Pond