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Commemorating the Genocide in Cambodia with Foundation Stones.

At a Foundation Stones event in March to commemorate those murdered between 1975 and 1979 in the Cambodian Genocide, we were privileged to hear testimony from two survivors, Dana Tep and Somaly Lun, read on their behalf by a friend and a family member. In response to Dana and Somaly’s stories, people painted Foundation Stones to remember all those who were murdered.

Run by Big Ideas on behalf of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, Foundation Stones invites everyone to paint a commemorative stone to become part of the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London. Foundation Stones commemorate the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust, all other victims of Nazi persecution and those murdered in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The March event was co-chaired by Dr Nick Maurice, who shared some of his own experiences providing emergency medical relief with Oxfam in Cambodia at this time. He spent four months in Cambodia as a nutritionist, from February to June 1980. He believes that listening to the stories of what people had endured was as important as the medical aid his team was bringing into the country.

Dr Nick Maurice then shared the testimony of his friend Dana Tep, who, along with her family, was forced to leave her home in April 1975. Though at the time she was told this would only be for three days, those three days turned into four years of displacement, forced labour, and loss. To this day, Dana is trying to trace 27 close family members not knowing whether they are dead or alive. She believes she is the sole survivor of three brothers and five sisters.

Clockwise from top left: Dana’s Mother, her husband, her eldest son (died in 1976 aged 20), her youngest son (died in 1976 aged 14), and Dana herself. Sadly, they do not have a picture of her third son, who was beaten to death. Her second son and her daughter survived and both live in London.

Next, participants heard the testimony of Somaly Lun. It was read on her behalf by her son-in-law, Ben Lankester. Somaly wanted to tell an untold story; the story of her late mother, Moeun. In 1975, 10 members of her family were forced to leave the city to work as slave labourers in rice fields which became known as the Killing Fields. Four years and four months later, only four of them returned to the ghost city Phnom Penh. Moeun lost five of her beloved sons and her husband, suffering unimaginable pain and loss.


All present felt extremely humbled by these moving and powerful stories. Bophanie, the daughter of survivor Somaly Lun, shared stones which had the names of her family members on them. She was thankful for the opportunity to hear her mother’s story in detail for the first time and connect with her past through this event.

Another participant was artist Morokoth Fournier Des Corats,  who painted a blue depiction of the Cambodian countryside to commemorate her aunt Ramoni’s murdered brother:

 

“This is for Ramoni, it’s just a Cambodian countryside, I know she wanted some palm trees, that was in memory of her family.”

Every stone painted will become part of the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London when it is built. The Learning Centre will look at the British response to the Holocaust and subsequent genocides and the Cambodian Genocide will form part of this exhibition. 

Foundation Stones are a commitment to remember the past and to build a future free from all forms of prejudice, discrimination and hatred. In the poignant words shared by the late Lord Frank Judd, former Director of Oxfam, who attended this event just three weeks before he sadly passed away:

“The challenge of today’s occasion is, whatever the odds which are not altogether favourable at the moment, to strive with all our vigour and commitment to build a world governed by values which mean it could never happen again.”

 

Big Ideas is thankful to both the British Embassy in Cambodia and the Royal Embassy of Cambodia to the UK for their involvement in this event. Also, thanks to our friend Dr Nick Maurice, without whom this event would not have been possible, and to the courage of the survivors and their families for sharing their experiences.