Genocide survivor to speak at John Carroll

November 17th, 2011

Loung Ung is a Cambodian native who survived the Cambodian genocide during the Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s, in which she lost her mother and father, as well as two sisters and 20 other relatives.

The now Shaker Heights resident is an author and human rights activist who will be speaking at John Carroll in a lecture sponsored by First Year Seminar, The Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the East Asian studies program.

Ung’s books chronicle her life’s journey from her experiences in Cambodia up to her life now.

“First They Killed My Father,” the first of her three books, is a detailed account of her life in Cambodia and the daily struggle for survival in the 1970s during a time of horror.

Ung’s second book, “Lucky Child,” is about her first few years of adjusting to life in America.

Her newest book, which will come out in April  2012, is about Ung’s life after college, falling in love with her husband, and the start of her activism career.

“To all [of] those 1 million and more people, they are somebody’s mothers, fathers and sisters, so I wanted to write a book that takes people into what it is like to live through a war, what it’s like to wake up every day and try to survive that when your rights have been taken away. What it is like to go through that,” said Ung.

Her lecture will focus on her life’s story as well as her activism dealing with the removal of landmines in Cambodia.

“It’s really important for me that people know what happened in Cambodia. 1.7 million to 2 million people died out of a population of 7 million people,” said Ung.

The author and activist has traveled back to Cambodia over 30 times since escaping 30 years ago. She uses this time to bring awareness to the country’s past, present and future.

“Cambodia is a beautiful country. It is a very vibrant, cultural, colorful country. It’s a country that is thriving and working really hard to thrive in peacetime.”

Ung wishes the people of Cambodia peace, prosperity and justice, and will continue to spread the word to other countries.

Prior to coming to America, her view of the country was that it was a place with “boring food.”

English became her fourth language and growing up in a whole new culture and country was difficult at times. When she decided to become an author, she found that people were unsure of how well she would fair.

“There were people who told me I couldn’t do it,” said Ung.

To everyone who has a dream Ung said, “Work hard, persevere, and do not give up.”

As a Cleveland resident, Ung also mentioned that despite all of her travels to over 35 countries around the world, Cleveland still holds a place in her heart.

“I love Cleveland,” she said.

Ung will speak in the Donahue Auditorium from 12-1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 30.