Hope, Endurance, and Music: Cambodian Activist Arn Chorn-Pond Shares His Story

Mr. Chorn-Pond, Headmaster Kerry Brennan, and Andrew and Reis White (Class I)
The White family was instrumental in bringing Mr. Chorn-Pond to R.L.

As a nine-year-old, Arn Chorn-Pond was one of hundreds of Cambodian children sent to prison camps when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. Under the life-saving tutelage of Youen Mek—a master artist—Arn survived by playing the flute, performing propaganda music to entertain soldiers and drown the sounds of executions. Forced into battle during the Vietnamese invasion, Arn escaped into the jungle and made his way over the border into Thailand. There, in dire health, he met The Reverend Peter Pond who formally adopted him and brought him to the United States.


Mr. Chorn-Pond spoke with boys and faculty in Hall this week, sharing his story, his music, and the resonant life lessons derived from both.


He spoke about his great struggle transitioning to life in the United States, where he faced the inability to communicate in English, discrimination for his brown skin, and derision for being an outsider. At the urging of his adoptive father, Arn learned to process his emotions and, ultimately, began to tell his story. That decision became a turning point for Arn, who eventually enrolled at Brown University, which he left after two years to co-found Children of War—an organization dedicated to helping children suffering traumas of all kinds. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Providence College and, since, has committed himself fully to humanitarian service and the arts.


An internationally-renowned human rights activist, he received the 1991 Amnesty International Human Rights Award, and the 1993 Kohl Foundation International Peace Prize, among other honors. His story is the subject of the book Never Fall Down—nominated for the National Book Award. An accomplished flautist, Mr. Chorn-Pond has performed with Grammy Award-winner Peter Gabriel and Grammy-nominated Ron Korb. He founded the Cambodian Living Arts, whose mission is to be a catalyst in a vibrant arts sector, in a country whose rich, artistic tradition was all but destroyed under Pol Pot’s regime.


Roxbury Latin students and adults benefitted from Mr. Chorn-Pond’s visit in great part due to the family of Andrew and Reis White, Class I, who have a long relationship with Cambodian Living Arts.