Young Cambodians’ reflect on Cambodia Reawakening – One year after the Khmer Rouge

One year after the Khmer Rouge, an exhibition of photos from John Burgess, an American author and former journalist at The Washington Post, can be seen in Siem Reap in collaboration with Anjali House, a local educational NGO, and co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh.

The exhibition, showing in Siem Reap for the first time, depicts the journey of John Burgess, who arrived in Phnom Penh in April 1980 with one of the first reporting visas granted by the country’s new government following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge. Over the next two weeks, he explored the capital and travelled by car around the Tonle Sap, with stops in Siem Reap and Battambang.

He found a country that in some places was stuck in the horrors of the past and in others was fast springing back to life, driven by the boundless energy and ingenuity of its people.

The images give an instant impression of how everyday life was re-organizing itself after the Khmer Rouge period. Today’s new generation of Cambodians has inherited this reconstruction. However, questions remain: What do young Cambodians feel about the past? Do they think it is part of their identity? Do they want to nurture a general amnesia or are they eager to learn about it and express themselves?

Anjali House’s young adults (aged 14 to 19), representing the young generation of Cambodians who did not witness the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, have studied the photos of the exhibition and expressed their responses and feelings. Some have created poems, some have written stories or personal reflections.

Each text has been printed in English and placed next to the photo that inspired it. Simon Ke, Anjali House Director, says, “Anjali House supports underprivileged children and young adults from Siem Reap. Our educational programs are based on acquiring knowledge and also – perhaps more importantly – on developing independence and critical thinking. John Burgess’ photographic record of his visit a few months after the end of Khmer Rouge rule gave a wonderful opportunity for our young adults to link their country’s past to its present and future, link the idea of reconstruction to stability, and hope to ambition.”

Speaking about the collaboration with Anjali House’s young adults, JBurgess says, “I made these photos in 1980 to help people in the United States understand Cambodia’s re-awakening from the Khmer Rouge horrors. It’s a real thrill for me that today the images can help younger Cambodians appreciate the events their parents and grandparents endured, and grapple with their own feelings about a history that is increasingly distant in time but never far from the heart.”

The photo exhibition is open until May 17 at Footprint café, Siem Reap.

For more information about Anjali House, visit https://www.anjali-house.com.