ProJo: R.I. Women in Action: Chanda Womack brings to light the struggles of Southeast Asian refugees
Posted Sep 20, 2018 at 9:31 PM
Womack, 38, founded ARISE (Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education) and through her organization, helped launch a pilot course in ethnic studies at Jorge Alvarez High School.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Veary Heng was 11 when she watched her younger brother die of starvation. She spent nearly four years in and out of labor camps, sleeping on mud floors and subsisting mainly on rice. At age 14, her father was forcibly taken away, never to be seen again.
Heng's childhood in Cambodia during the 1970s was filled, not with toys and joy, but with immense suffering and despair.
She had witnessed U.S. bombing raids targeting North Vietnamese sanctuaries in her country during the Vietnam War. She had survived the despot Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge forces that mercilessly killed an estimated 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979. The mass murder is known as the Cambodian genocide, immortalized in the film “The Killing Fields.”
Four decades later, Heng, 54, was sharing her painful past with tenth graders at Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence. The elegant and accomplished psychiatric nurse stoically answered students' questions, opening their eyes to a gruesome history few knew anything about.
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