Cambodian ambassador makes friends, shares culture at Indian Creek School Pupils had raised money to aid country's youths

April 04, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Citizens in the struggling country of Cambodia don't have enough hospitals or schools, so they welcome the goodwill of students at Indian Creek School in Crownsville, Var Huoth, Cambodian ambassador to the United States, told the students yesterday.

Huoth, 59, visited several classrooms in the independent school of more than 400 students, talking about religion, history, growth and reconstruction in the Southeast Asian nation.

His visit was part of Cambodian American Friendship Day at the school, which included a Cambodian dance troupe that gave two performances and a Cambodian sculptor whose work -- a marble sculpture of a five-headed snake and brass figurines -- decorated the library.

The school has been planning the event for a month -- decorating the halls with posters of Cambodia, preparing typed lists of questions and studying the country's history.

They learned about the Communist Khmer Rouge, which slaughtered virtually all of the country's educated people and drove the population into the countryside during a reign of terror in the late 1970s.

The exact death toll is not known but is estimated at more than 1 million.

Twenty years of civil war followed, and land mines took the arms and legs of many children.

"If you took Cambodia and put it in Indian Creek class terms, it would be two [students] out of a class of 22 children would be amputees," said Liz Beck, a parent volunteer who helped organize the event.

Students raised more than $1,700 -- many students brought $1 or more from home, and one seventh-grader donated his bar mitzvah money -- to give to the American Red Cross to buy prostheses for Cambodian children who lost limbs to land mines. The money will be enough to buy 17 limbs, Beck said.

"I'm very happy that you contribute money to the Red Cross for victims of land mine," Huoth told a class of seventh-graders.

He wore a dark suit, white shirt and maroon tie and spoke with a heavy accent, gesturing and sometimes making fun of the language barrier.

He said that most Cambodians are Buddhists and that some enjoy playing soccer, bicycling and basketball.

During the past three years, the country of 11 million has struggled to build an economy and infrastructure.

"We had to re-create the country from scratch," he said. "The new Cambodia is only three years and a half old."

Because the country has not yet built enough schools, its 2 million school-aged children go to school in shifts -- half from 7 a.m. until noon, and the other half from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m. "We have not got enough classrooms like you," Huoth said.

When 13-year-old Lindsey Beidle asked what Cambodians thought of Americans, Huoth said enthusiastically, "You are very welcome in Cambodia. You are the greatest benefactor of Cambodia."

Many students said afterward the talk helped illuminate their lessons and made them appreciate their circumstances.

"It shows us how good we have it," said Allison Flynn, 13, "that we don't have land mines."

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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