Cambodian activist to offer message of healing, hope

Arn Chorn-PondArn Chorn-Pond, an activist and accomplished performer, will share his story and his music at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at Tyler Hall’s Waterman Theatre.

The free event is part of SUNY Oswego’s new College Hour weekly programming series.

Chorn-Pond, who survived the Cambodian killing fields as a child by playing propaganda songs for the Khmer Rouge on his flute, learned firsthand about the power of music. When the Khmer Rouge asked children in the camp who would like to learn to flute, five boys, including Chorn-Pond, raised their hands. After five days worth of lessons from an experienced flutist, the boys auditioned for the Khmer Rouge. Chorn-Pond recalled that while he was selected to be the camp flutist, the other boys were killed.

He said his music often was played over loudspeakers in the camp to drown out the sounds of executions that regularly took place behind the temple. “People knew that when they played the loud noise [music] they were killing people,” he said. Many of the children, including Chorn-Pond, were forced to watch, and sometimes participate in, the executions.

After four years, Chorn-Pond’s flute was replaced with a gun and he was forced to fight against the invading Vietnamese. The death and destruction of battle became too much for him and he fled into the jungle, where he survived on small animals and fruit.

Weighing only 50 pounds, he stumbled into a refugee camp in neutral Thailand, where he was eventually adopted by an American missionary and brought to the United States.

Chorn-Pond has used his music as a way to heal the scars of his past. Working with Amnesty International and the Children of War Foundation, he has been outspoken about the effects of war. He now works with gangs and at-risk youth, using music to end the violence in American neighborhoods.

He was the focus of the Emmy-nominated documentary “The Flute Player” on the PBS series “P.O.V.” Chorn-Pond has told his story and shared his message on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” and other media outlets. He has earned such honors as the Reebok Human Rights Award, the Anne Frank Memorial Award and the Kohl Foundation International Peace Prize.

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(Posted: Apr 04, 2007)