Today we were fortunate enough to visit the largest war prison, turned museum, in Cambodia. It was our most emotional day by far. The prison/museum, called S-21, was used by the Khmer Rouge regime (the communist party that gained control in the mid 1970’s) to hold Cambodians which were suspected to have ties with the CIA, KGB, or other parties against communism. S-21 was originally a schoolhouse in 1965, turned into a prison in 1975, and finally became a museum in 1980. Our program had the privilege to meet one of the seven survivors, out of 20,000+ prisoners, named Chum Mey. After being held for four months of torturing, not being able to talk freely to others, and being chained to the floor for nearly 24 hours a day, he described the first moment of freedom as a feeling of rebirth. S-21 is a unique prison in that it photographed every victim upon entry and after they were killed; the halls of the museum were lined with hundreds of photographs of the deceased Cambodian citizens, most all of which had done nothing wrong.
The next stop was the Killing Fields, the area where prisoners were executed. Skulls and mass graves (the largest being a 400+ mass grave) were an all-too-common sight. A 5-story tower of skulls was placed in the middle of the gravesite, giving respects to those unfortunate citizens.
On a happier note, our lunch took place in a school that housed underprivileged children who received free education. These students learned vocational practices such as cooking, mechanics, beauty, and hospitality. We finished up the day with a traditional Khmer dinner at a nice hotel. We will head out early in the morning tomorrow to visit a bear sanctuary, so check in soon!
Written by Mark Bacchetta, Courtney Dressler, Cristian Vitale, Stephanie Wirth
Portrait of Mr Chan Muy after sharing his story of imprisonment and torture with us. (Cristian Vitale)
Skulls of victims in the killing fields (Cristian Vitale)
Local school for underprivileged children, that we visited after lunch to brightened up the day after the killing fields (Stephanie Wirth)