Chanty Jong Spoke of Surviving the Cambodian Genocide at Westby Hall

Chanty Jong speaking on Wednesday, Nov. 3. -Photo courtesy of William Mendez

Genocide survivor Chanty Jong visited Rowan’s campus to spread awareness surrounding trauma, mental health, and a journey of self-healing on Wednesday, Nov. 3, at Westby Hall on Rowan’s main campus 

According to Jong, from 1975 to 1979, Cambodian members were forced into radical modification, many of whom did not survive. The raid’s communist leader, Pol-Pot, drove millions from their homes, confined them to slavery, and the treacherous jungle outside. 

Their goal was to turn Southeast Asia into a barbaric and savage community. 

The people of Cambodia were put to work as slaves in fields, regularly beaten, killed and often left for dead from starvation and malnourishment. This gruesome event tore families apart and left a lasting impression on the people who experienced it– including one eight-year-old girl named Chanty Jong. 

Jong is a courageous survivor who has overcome plentiful struggles surrounding long-term stress from the traumatic effects of the Cambodian Holocaust.

When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, Jong was finishing third grade. She was separated from her parents and siblings and put to work in a children’s camp. Jong and millions of other children were subjected to manual labor, an unsanitary place to sleep, as well as a lack of food, water and medical supplies. 

Through courage and self-determination, Jong was able to escape the children’s camp and flee to America where she eventually earned a degree, got married, had two children and became a U.S. citizen.

She explained how this experience affected her everyday life and the techniques she uses to cope with trauma. Jong also dove into topics of mental health regarding struggles of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the stigma that surrounds it.

“My mind was my powerful savior,” Jong said. “I used it to conquer my fears.”

Jong concluded that the purpose of her story is to not only spread awareness about genocide but to also spread awareness about additional trauma.

“All kinds of trauma, rape, abandonment, all kinds of things, I want those people to understand you have the power to stand up and fight the demon inside of you. Don’t be afraid,” Jong said. 

Kendra Hahn, a junior history major, recognized the importance of having speakers visit the school, 

“It was a once in a lifetime experience to come and see a genocide survivor,” Hahn said. “Sometimes just reading stuff off the internet doesn’t hit home with you but actually hearing someone say it, you could hear her trembling voice and see her trying not to break down and I think it’s important to see it real and up close.”

Chanty’s presentation comes during a crucial time where concern for mental health is on the rise. 

“Hearing her story and the way she was able to overcome it was very inspiring,” Hahn said. “The way she was talking about how to conquer her traumas and fears made me think about how crazy it is. So much is happening today and you don’t know what people are going through.” 

Chanty Jong relives traumatic memories of her experience and journey of self-healing in her 2020 memoir, “Running Toward the Guns.”

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