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While in Cambodia, Danielle along with Ashlee Larsen, a Brigham Young graduate student, accompanied Stirring the Fire founder, Phil Borges as he documented the work of Youth Star.

There are two sides to every story told about a relationship. Today’s post reveals the side of the perpetrator; his perspective on violence, his past and Samphors’ positive influence.

Ra Long married Savy 15 years ago a few months after the death of his first wife. Being married two times, Ra told us matter-of-factly that “in marriage, people always clash”. We asked him to define “clash” to which he said that that means couples shout at one another. He then told us that when Savy didn’t listen to him he would use “military force”, which meant, among other things, that he would beat her with a stick.

Ra's beautiful daughter

He readily admitted to us that beating her with a stick did not produce good results but was at a loss about what to do or how to change his behavior. He also believed that the violence comes from both people and that both are responsible for decreasing their anger and improving their behavior. As someone who works for domestic violence survivors, I did not agree with this statement, but did not interrupt his surprisingly open way of sharing his thoughts with us.

Domestic violence is a learned behavior. Ra told us that his parents didn’t fight. This was the case until he was 10 years old. Had it continued this way, perhaps he never would have learned to use “military force”. But at age 6 his life changed forever. The Khmer Rouge swept across Cambodia and took his father. He said at that point his behavior began to change. He did not go into detail of his years under the regime as a child but I speculate that he, like thousands of other children, was forced to work long hours, faced months of starvation, watched his friends and family members be taken away or waste away and perhaps endured beatings from Khmer Rouge soldiers on a regular basis.

Two cute village kids.

A particularly tragic event happened in 1979, the year the Khmer Rouge was defeated by Vietnam. Part of the Khmer Rouge’s strategy of ruthless rule was to plant landmines after attacking villages. Ra was walking in the heavy rain with his mother and younger brother when they stepped on a landmine. It blew his mother’s legs off. He tried to save her by pulling her under a tree to keep her out of the downpour and then carried his younger brother to the nearest clinic. Unrecognized by Ra, his brother died along the way. Ra was 10 years old. He told us that his mother was his world, his one source of love. When he lost her his heart was irretrievably broken.

Like many survivors of the Khmer Rouge, Ra was left an orphan. He grew up with his remaining siblings who didn’t treat each other with compassion or respect. A war-child grown up, he got a job that represents power and authority that allows, perhaps, for the use of military force for disciplinary actions. He became a police officer.

Stieng Village Kids

By the time Youth Star volunteer Samphors arrived in the village, he was no longer working as a police man. He pointed out that poverty – his economic decline – had also put extra pressure on him that made him quicker to react violently. Not only was Savy a target for his beatings but his daughter from his first marriage as well. She started going to the youth club and became aware of the domestic violence in her home. She, as well as Savy, both spoke to Samphors about their situation.

Samphors regularly and frequently made home visits. Ra explained to us that having her there as an educated outsider was the key for him to start talking. Echoing what Savy had told us, there was a clear sense that sharing such things within the village was not safe. But Samphors became that safe person to talk to. Eventually she ended up counseling them both with exceptional, and enviable, results.

The New Generation of Stieng People

Now Ra says that he has learned his lesson from his past. He smiles as he says that he and Savy work hand and hand and that their economic situation has improved. He has also worked to change his relationship with his daughter, saying that “domestic violence is shameful behavior” and that when she marries “we want to be a good relationship role model for her and her new husband”.

This concludes Danielle’s reporting from her trip to Cambodia.  We would like to sincerely thank her for sharing with us the wonderful work CASC and Youth Star is doing and the moving stories of the people they serve.  Stay tuned to hear from Phil and what he took away from this experience!

Youth Leadership for Violence-Free Communities

Empowering and engaging youth as actors for change is a fundamental but underemployed approach for ending violence against women and girls. Youth Star Cambodia is an NGO that provides Cambodian university graduates an opportunity to gain experience and develop their civic leadership skills by working as volunteer interns in underserved rural areas. With support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, Youth Star Cambodia enlisted 20 university graduates for a year-long volunteer service in an education and youth-led mobilization programme to address domestic violence.

Working with youth and other community members in districts across rural Cambodia, the volunteers created space for dialogue and education on values, sexual rights and gender relationships and sparked community action to prevent gender-based violence. While the youth volunteers themselves gained a range of skills and experience in mobilizing youth for action and change, the youth credited the programme with improved relationships, decreased violence, a sense of value and place in their communities, and increased school attendance.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, managed by UN Women, is a leading source of support for local and national efforts to end violence against women and girls. Join the UN Trust Fund in this vital work—for more information on how you can support the UN trust Fund click here.


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