We began our first day in the capitol city of Phnom Pehn with Jesse, our host and the director of Stronghold Cambodia. After an orientation and meetings with some of our partner NGOs such as the ELCC and Lutheran Hour Ministries, we went to S-21, the high school converted to a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975 to 1979. S-21 was where Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, imprisoned anyone he felt posed a threat to him. This included political rivals, the educated, and anyone who spoke a foreign language and their entire families. Over 20,000 people were taken into the S-21 prison in those 4 years aNd only 11 survived. This prison was a temporary holding place where prisoners were tortured in unspeakable ways until they confessed to crimes and named other enemies of the state, at which point they were taken in the night to the Killing fields and murdered.
Later, in the afternon we visited the Killing Fields. During Pol Pot's rule nearly 3 million of the total population of 8 million Cambodians died. Many of them died in one of several hundred killing fields all over the country. Others died of disease and starvation. I had heard of the killing fields, but didn't know much about them. It wasn't easy seeing the cells and photos at S-21, but what hit me the hardest was watching for victims remains exposed by time and weather in the paths at the killing flields to avoid showing disrespect by walking on them. It's hard to believe people could commit these atrocities against each other, especially because all of the Cambodian people we have met are so friendly.
I don't want this blog to be a downer, (although it does seem that way), but this is how our Cambodia missions begin as a way to give us a perspective for what this country and its people have so recently endured. Before dinner we took a short tour around Phnom Penh in a tuk-tuk. We saw the Royal Palace and walked in the park along the Mekong river. Tomorrow we will take the 5 hour drive to Sihanoukville where Stronghold Cambodia is and our mission work begins.