Hope for the future

September 21, 2006, volume 37, no. 2

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Yim Sorphorn was only five years old when the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and drove the people out of cities, towns and villages into communes. Children were not exempt from plans to create an ideal agrarian society. Yim was put to work digging canals from morning to late afternoon, surviving on rice porridge that was occasionally supplemented with cassava or corn, but never meat. "I cried a lot," says Yim, dressed in a striped business shirt, dress slacks and polished black leather shoes. "I was very skinny. You could count all my ribs."

Eventually Yim, along with about 10 other youngsters, was put to work herding cows until Communist Vietnam liberated Phnom Penh in 1979. Life improved slightly; people were not forced to work and executions stopped, Yim says.

Although nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population perished, Yim's family—his parents, one brother and four sisters—miraculously survived the four despotic Khmer Rouge years. However, Yim says he lost many of his cousins.

Yim's family returned to their village in Takeo province and, at age nine, Yim began Grade 1, his classroom a cow stable, the blackboard a piece of wood, dried chunks of red clay for chalk. Yim went to Phnom Penh for secondary school at which time he began learning English in secret. Its study was considered subversive by the Vietnamese, who had renamed Cambodia the People's Republic of Kampuchea. Yim's prodigious talent for English would soon open doors to universities in countries the young man didn't even know existed while he was growing up. He won a Fulbright scholarship while an undergraduate student at RUPP, did a master's degree in education at Ohio University and went on to post-graduate work in Australia and Singapore. Yim returned to RUPP in 2000 to teach English in the department of English, Institute of Foreign Languages.

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