Chan Monirak Chhy – Cambodia
Confidence in addressing transnational issues
Today’s Kingdom of Cambodia welcomes tourists to the gorgeously carved and serene Buddhist wats (temples) of the ancient Khmer Empire that flourished for six hundred years. Cambodia is healing, but like his native country, Chan Monirak Chhy has experienced a transformation from a very low point to one of optimism and empowerment. The changes are somewhat parallel in that history, cultural heritage, and the individual human spirit have driven both the young man and his country to new heights.
“Having been born in a typical Asian family guided by firm disciplines and tough restrictions,” Chan says, “I grew up learning to hold people around me in considerable respect to a point where I did not even dare to fight for my own beliefs.”
Chan talks about a fearful subservience underlying people’s consciousness in his homeland where memories still bear the weight of its crushing history, starting even before the French colonization and Indochina war. Cambodia suffered horrendous bombings as the US extended the war with Vietnam into Cambodia. “People who live in provinces still find it so dangerous to walk into the forests as mines or bombs are hidden under the ground,” Chan says. “Many children died or became disabled because of the explosion of those bombs.” Worst of all was the “unspeakably cruel” Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. In a monstrously misguided effort to abolish social classes, two million innocent Cambodian citizens were brutally slaughtered. Chan speaks of family members who endured forced marriages, who lost children that weren’t allowed to live with their families, or who pretended to be stupid just to survive. “We were pushed to a point below zero back then.”
Though the Pol Pot regime fell fifteen years before Chan was born into this traumatized world, he says, “I was such a scared kid who was very introverted and willing to do whatever people around me said. I did not really have a strong sense of who I was and what I wanted to be. I was petrified when it came to doing things on my own.”
While Chan was still in high school, a brutally violent beating took place within his household. A well loved family member barely “crawled her way back to life,” Chan revealed, leaving those involved devastated. “What made me feel extremely guilty and deeply ashamed was the fact that I could do nothing to help fix this broken relationship.” Yet this shattering event changed everything for Chan. “That was the moment I realized I needed to develop myself to cope with such issues, and that was exactly when I managed to find strength in myself.”
The thought of attending social events or participating in group work had terrified him for fear he would be “overpowered” by others, so he began volunteering with rural non-profit organizations, soon becoming more confident, able to socialize, and organize events. At the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Chan majored in international studies, facing a major new challenge. “Coming from a conservative society and strict family, I did not have much confidence about expressing my views towards social issues,” he admitted. So, he focused on public speaking, and in 2014, he won an award for being the best public speaker.
Additionally, he joined the debate club, adjudicating and training others as well as debating. As he gained expertise and experience, his confidence increased, bolstering his ability to argue any side of an issue convincingly and “in a logical and polite manner.” The debate club “opened my eyes to see the perspectives of another person. It let me look at issues from a different angle. More importantly, it enabled me to be flexible, considerate, and open-minded.”
As a part of the club’s outreach program, Chan helped conduct workshops and training in rural areas, earning recognition as a team leader. In 2016, his group went to a small elementary school in a rural province where he instructed children in public speaking with confidence-building as a main goal. “We strongly believed that our society needed more empowerment and support, and the best way to begin was with the children.”
Chan now plans to run campaigns in rural areas aimed at reducing domestic violence “by raising awareness of the possible catastrophic consequences of conflicts within family,” and educating women in ways “to speak out and fight for their rights and destiny.” A vital component also involves educating men as to “the far-reaching effects of domestic violence and strategies on how to conquer aggression.”
In this way, Chan hopes to use his personal experiences with domestic violence to promote peace, cooperation, tolerance, and the realization that differences can be cultivated to contribute to the betterment of everyone. With new global issues arising, he believes cooperation skills will enable solutions. “That is why in the future I also hope to work for international organizations that work to promote such cooperation,” he says. “New transnational issues are not something to be afraid of because they yield the perfect opportunities for people across territories to cooperate so as to achieve common goals, and I am willing to be a part of those people who join hand to make the world a more peaceful place.”