My Journey For Peace

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Jul 12, 2021
by Khet Long
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My Journey For Peace

Salzburg Global Fellow and co-founder of Youth For Peace, Khet Long, reflects on his childhood in Cambodia and how it influences his work today Khet Long is the co-founder of Youth for Peace and the founder of the Peace Institute of Cambodia

I was born in Cambodia in 1975, at a time of war and bombardment. By the time I was a young adult, I had come through countless bitter life experiences across horrible and oppressed regimes involving genocide, civil war, and communism.

I was a little child during the Khmer Rouge (KR) period. I did not experience hardship and hunger, but I remember that people lived, worked, and ate collectively. I remember people digging canals, engaging in farming, and in planting vegetables.

I suffered so much after the collapse of the KR regime because my family was displaced. We wandered for almost a year in the jungle without enough food to eat and no shelter or place to stay. We faced a lack of water to drink, rice to cook, and the absence of sanitation and security as we went along our journey.

We all feared death, danger, and starvation. As a result of this displacement, many people – babies, mothers who had just delivered babies, children, sick and older people – were abandoned, and they died along the way in the mountains and jungles. We returned to our native village in the early years of the 1980s. Most of my family survived, except three of my siblings, whose innocent souls were lost and never returned.

I came to Phnom Penh to pursue further education after my high school graduation in 1992. During my studies, I volunteered in social work and peace movements such as peace dialogues, environmental activities, and the peace walk "Dhammayietra."

I was inspired by the leadership of Preah Maha Ghosananda, a Nobel Peace Prize non-violent Buddhist monk in Cambodia. I believe that his values of non-violence and peaceful solutions are foundations for coexisting and harmony.

I have a dream of peace in Cambodia. With a firm vision of peace, three friends and I created a peace organization called Youth for Peace (YFP). We successfully developed a peacebuilding program with young people. Our main aim is to empower young people to become agents of peaceful change and build a future generation of involved citizens and strong leaders with good role models. We believe in the central role of young people in building peace, reconciliation, and social reconstruction,

A peacebuilder is a life-long learner, and I set myself a challenge is to learn new things. Learning has no limit. I had a tough life struggle from my childhood till adult life, living under repressive societies and civil war conditions, including under the Khmer Rouge and communist leadership.
 
I learned so many things from my personal life experience to survive – the need to be patient, resilient, and educated. I think peacebuilders have to play a leadership role to give good examples and role models for their family, community, and young people in particular.

Beyond visionary and creative conduct that the leaders should have, today and tomorrow's leaders have to take the lead and pioneer in challenging, difficult situations. They must transform negative and violent systems or conditions into enabling and positive ones through trust-building, dialogue, engagement, and partnership.

The ability to critically analyze and understand conflicts is an initial step that leaders should develop to make positive changes and bring peace to their communities, society, and the world. As John Paul Lederach indicated, the change of peacebuilding must start with the change of personal behavior and expand out to the communities.

Through my practice of volunteering, I made changes in my life from being passive to active in contributing to the peace and development of society. Moving from self-development to voluntarism and commitment to social changes are keys to build peace.


Khet Long is a Fellow of the Asia Peace Innovators Forum. As well as co-founding Youth for Peace, Long also established the Peace Institute of Cambodia, which aims to promote a culture of peace and culture of democracy in Cambodia and its region.