Mr. Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia

Mr. Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia

When I began my studies at the University of Washington in Seattle in Fall 1998, a self awakening had already begun. Earlier that year, I did my high school senior research on Khmer Rouge history and for the first time in memory, I interviewed my parents. No important resource was more valuable at that time than the works of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DCCAM).

I had never met or communicated with DCCAM’s founder, Mr. Youk Chhang prior to 1998. But the world works in mysterious ways sometimes. In early 2000, I wrote an email introduction about a candlelight vigil being organized on campus to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh. Mr. Chhang was elated to say the least. He gave us permission to use S-21 photos from his center as part of our visuals. Privately, he sent me a massive stash of magazines, books, and CDs, which jump started my private Cambodia library collection.

The vigil made local, national, and international news, but nothing was bigger than the coverage at ABC Nightline. I finished my undergrad in Southeast Asian studies and human rights in 2003, and my friendship with Mr. Chhang continued.

In August 2005, I purchased a one-way ticket to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Naturally, one of the first place I seek employment was DCCAM. I didn’t find a job or intern there, but I finally got to meet Mr. Chhang for the first time.

The soft spoken Mr. Chhang is one of the most intelligent visionaries I have ever met. His accolades is a long list of achievements, most notably, “Time 100” most influential people in the world in 2007. The Sleuk Rith Institute (photo attached), is his latest vision for Cambodia and the world. And perhaps, a new chapter in our friendship.

© 2024 Phatry Derek Pan