, a Portland
software engineer who survived the 1970s Khmer Rouge
regime in Cambodia
, is returning to his native land next week to start work on building a new school.
"I want to show the better side of humanity," Ung says. "My dream is not just one or two schools. I want to build hundreds or thousands."
In a 2009 WW profile
, Ung described losing his parents, younger sister and seven other relatives in the genocide estimated to have killed 2 million people. Ung and his older sister, Sivheng, fled to Thailand and eventually settled in Portland, where Ung graduated from Cleveland High School and Reed College.
Still haunted by nightmares of the past, in 2009 Ung published a memoir called Golden Leaf
and founded the Golden Leaf Education Foundation
to raise money for schools in Cambodia. Ung says the foundation has so far raised more than $65,000, with one couple giving $16,000.
The Cambodian-American Community of Oregon for years has provided food and medical aid to the people of Ang, an impoverished village in western Cambodia. CACO members told Ung the village school is in terrible condition, with holes in the roof that leak in the rain.
Ung is traveling to Cambodia this week to meet the district governor, visit the village and sign a contract with local builders. Ung says he'll be accompanied by Chanly Bob, head of CACO; Norb Murray, president of the Golden Leaf Education Fund; and Hem Heng
, the Cambodian ambassador to the United States.
Ung and Murray are active in the Rotary Club of Portland, and Ung says a local rotary in Cambodia will oversee building the school. Ung says he hopes it will be the first of many new schools in Cambodia built with donations from Oregon. (To donate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
"The Khmer Rouge eradicated my faith in humanity, and by doing this, I am rebuilding my own faith in humanity as well as other people's faith in humanity," Ung says. "Two million people died. I want to make sure they didn't die in vain."
Watch this video to learn more about Golden Leaf Education Foundation: