What We Can Learn from the Histories

McKall Harris
Project Volunteer
Brigham Young Univeristy

I have loved being involved with the Cambodian Oral History Project. I think it’s really easy for us to view other people and cultures as completely different than ourselves. We often forget how much we really have in common.

As a former missionary in Cambodia and now as a volunteer for this project, I have come to love the Khmer people. It’s easy to make large, overarching generalizations about specific countries. When people hear about Cambodia, they first think of the Khmer Rouge. Although that is a major part of Cambodia’s history and of the lives of the Khmer people, there is also so much more to these people than just that short period of time in their history.

As I have listened to the stories of Cambodians, I have come to realize that there is much more to them than just memories of the Khmer Rouge. They tell stories of their childhood and their parents, of their studies and their friends. It surprises me how much we really have in common. Many of these people experienced incredible stress in school and spent endless hours trying to learn other languages. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Many of them experienced heartbreak when they had to move houses or when the person they wanted to marry didn’t want to marry them. Hasn’t that happened at least once in our lives?

Within these oral histories, there are definitely sad, heart-wrenching stories. But there are definitely an equal number of heartwarming and happy stories that speak volumes about the resilience and positivity of these people. These stories have allowed me to look beyond broad generalization and have allowed me to really see people. People with lives and families, and yes, a very difficult past. But people who have many of the same fears and stresses and problems as I do. As I have learned more about them and about each of their individual stories, my love for them has grown. I have found greater strength from seeing their commitment and strength. Many of these stories have never been heard before. The Khmer people are willing and anxious to share their experiences and the things they have learned throughout their lives, and this has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn from the things they have shared. This has been an immensely valuable and touching project for me to participate in. I hope that as more people are able to view and read these stories, they will feel an increased love toward and understanding of the Khmer people as well as increased strength to face their own problems.