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Genocide survivor to speak at Union University’s first social justice symposium

JACKSON, Tenn.April 14, 2004 – “Surviving the Killing Fields: An Interview with Samonn Chhim,” the first annual social justice symposium of the Union University social work department, will follow one man’s journey through the labor camps of Cambodia, to refugee camps in Thailand and finally resettling in west Tennessee where he found hope in the love of Christ.

The symposium will be April 19 at 6:45 p.m. in Jennings Hall. Dr. Terry Blakley, associate professor of social work, will guide the interview and facilitate Chhim in telling his story. The format will be an hour-long interview followed by a question and answer time with the audience.

During the Cambodian genocide an estimated 1.7 million people lost their lives. The Khmer Rouge took power in the Cambodian capital on April 17, 1975. The city’s population was evacuated and herded to collective farms where many who had avoided execution were starved or worked to death. By 1979, when Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia and deposed the Khmer Rouge, at least 21 percent of the country’s population had been killed by starvation, torture or execution.

In 1975, Chhim, at age 7, was separated from his family and interred in a boys’ labor camp. Four years later, the family reunited and escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand. Through the help of Catholic Charities, the Chhim family immigrated to the United States and settled in Memphis.

Chhim is a 1994 graduate of Union University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He now resides in Jackson, Tenn., with his wife, Julie, and their three children.

“Every day is a miracle,” Chhim said. “Unlike in Cambodia where there was no hope, there is hope here. In Cambodia and many other places around the world, you don’t see a future. In the USA there are so many opportunities.”

The symposium is based on Micah 6:8, which says, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Blakley said, “There are refugees in the making every day and Samonn Chhim becomes a voice for those refugees who will need courageous social workers inspired by Micah 6:8 to stand beside them and help to pull them through their crisis and suffering.”

For more information about the social justice symposium, call Terry Blakley at (731) 661-5564.

Media contact: Tabitha Frizzell, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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