There is an old Native American proverb that reads, “Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
I have always been captivated by the stories, events, and people that have shaped the history of the world around us. I was so enthralled by all facets of history, in fact, that I actually resolved to study that very subject at Brigham Young University.
And yet, history has taken on a whole new meaning to me ever since I began working in translation and as a Volunteer Coordinator for the Cambodian Oral History Project. Rather than being caught up in the key dates and events that seemed to have altered the world’s history, I began to find more pleasure in the simple stories of common people that lived through those very events and times. To me, their experiences made these people come alive! I was finally given the chance to smile at their triumph over adversity, and understand the emotion underpinned by their volatile environment––which was a window into seeing history less about dates and more about people.
I suppose that is why this project has begun to mean so much to me. I simply cannot relive the lives of those people in Cambodia that have endured difficulties of all types. And while language cannot convey the full experience of those that underwent those turbulent times, at least I can come one step closer to understanding history through the lens of human experience––something arguably more valuable than what you can read in a textbook.
In that light, may we seek to learn the principles of those that have come before, as well as appreciate the stories that they have shared with us.
By Thomas Barrett*
Thomas Barrett is a project assistant studying history at Brigham Young University