2019 marked the 40th anniversary of the Cambodian genocide.  Through our partnership with Marks and Spencer, we have the privilege to work with textile workers in Cambodia this year. We are delivering “Leadership for Life“, our core leadership and entrepreneurship programme.  But before we started training, we visited both ‘The Killing Fields’ & ‘S-21’ (the genocide musem) to understand more of the context of the journey people here are on.

What was the Cambodian genocide?

Succinctly summarised by Wikipedia, “The Cambodian genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime under the leadership of Pol Pot, inflicting a population loss between 1.6 and 1.8 million people from 1975 to 1979, or 21%-24% Cambodia’s 1975 population.”

Killing Fields

Pol Pot’s evil destruction of humanity here in Cambodia meant that 3 million lost their lives – for no good reason – in secrecy and humility. Many lost dear loved ones and still have no idea where or even if they died. As we visited the memorial sites set up to remember the lost, we were left speechless and with very real tears in our eyes.  The audio tours, often involving some of the few who survived, recounted their stories – humbling, heartbreaking and at times brutal.

The Killing Tree

The ‘Killing Tree’ was one of the hardest sites to bear as a father.  A tree against which children were beaten.  And yet I am only a witness to history.  I don’t have to live the reality.

torture center cambodian genocide

Leaving ‘the killing fields’ we rode, in silence, across the city to ‘S-21’ – the high-school-turned-torture-centre where so many were brutally tortured in ways I will not recount here. This is what can happen when humanity does not pay attention to the weeds in their hearts.

The Weeds in our Hearts

‘Our thoughts affect our feelings, which affect our action, but actions repeated become habits and our habits shape our character.’

This is a line we frequently repeat during our Leadership for Life training.

Who knows why Pol Pot ended up with his heart so distorted that he could ‘reason’ this inhumane devastation?

Steve in Cambodia

Whilst I can never conceive I might ‘do such a thing’, it made me reflect on the careless words we can say that damage another’s soul.  Or the thoughtless actions we make in haste that wound even those we love.

So whilst I cannot change the world I can positively affect the world around me. I can get rid of the weeds in my heart that threaten to destroy the fruit I might wish to create in others.

What is Emerging Leaders doing in Cambodia?

Emerging Leaders in Cambodia

Out of all this darkness, light seemed to shine more brightly. One young man survived, he said, because he never gave up HOPE! Many, he said, died before they were ever killed because they lost hope!

And that is why we are here. We are working alongside textile workers, breaking the cycle of hopelessness. By changing mindsets, we see potential wake up.  And these mindsets enable flourishing and writing a new HOPE-filled story.