Cambodia, a country located on the mainland of Southeast Asia, is a land of plains and great rivers. It is mainly a rural country. In the capital city of Phnom Penh, the influences of many Asian cultures, alongside those of France and the United States, can be seen.
The vast majority of its population is comprised of Khmer (Cambodians). Minorities include Chinese, Vietnamese, Muslim Cham-Malays, Laotians, and more.
On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodia), led by Pol Pot, seized control of the country, intending to turn the place into a communist agrarian utopia, a classless society. Cities were emptied, and millions of people were evacuated to labor camps. Teachers, doctors, attorneys, and other educated people, as well as monks and the rich, were considered a threat.
It is estimated that between 1.7 and 2 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge four year reign (21 to 24% of the country’s population).
An invasion from neighboring Vietnam, on January 7, 1979, toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.
On Wednesday, June 26, the Tolerance Education Center hosted William Eir, who shared his compelling Cambodian survival story. After losing both his parents, Eir was placed in a Buddhist Temple and trained in becoming a monk. He was 9 years old when the Khmer Rouge came into power. Eir lost his brother and many other relatives. He endured mental torture while being placed in solitary confinement for long periods.
In 1983 Eir migrated to the United States. He studied nursing. On July 4th, 1988, his journey to U.S. citizenship became a dream come true. Today Eir resides in Palm Springs.