While the United States battled the Communists of North Vietnam in the 1960s and '70s, the neighbouring country of Cambodia was attacked from within by dictator Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge imprisoned, enslaved, and murdered the educated and intellectual members of the population, resulting in the harrowing “killing fields”–rice paddies where the harvest yielded nothing but millions of skulls.
Young Sichan Siv–a target since he was a university graduate–was told by his mother to run and “never give up hope!” Captured and put to work in a slave labor camp, Siv knew it was only a matter of time before he would be worked to death–or killed. With a daring escape from a logging truck and a desperate run for freedom through the jungle, including falling into a dreaded pungi pit, Siv finally came upon a colorfully dressed farmer who said, “Welcome to Thailand.”
He spent months teaching English in a refugee camp in Thailand while regaining his strength, eventually Siv was allowed entry into the United States. Upon his arrival in the U.S., Siv kept striving. Eventually rising to become a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Siv returned with great trepidation to the killing fields of Cambodia in 1992 as a senior representative of the U.S. government. It was an emotionally overwhelming visit.