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Roth Prum: Genocide's horrors still haunt dreams

Fellowship Story Showcase

Roth Prum: Genocide's horrors still haunt dreams

Picture of Greg Mellen

Even 31 years after arriving in the United States, Prum expects she will always be affected by the 44 months of brutality she suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and the hard times that followed.

Although Prum meets with counselors, takes medication and is active in her church, she struggles daily with the memories, the dreams, the anxiety.

 

This article is part of a six-part series that looks at the effects of PTSD on members of the Cambodian community:

Part 1: Killing Fields Legacy

Part 2: PTSD from Cambodia's Killing fields affects kids who were never there

Part 3: At 92, she's still haunted by Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia 

Part 4: SAM KEO: Soul-searching helps win battle in mind 

Part 5: ROTH PRUM: Genocide's horrors still haunt dreams

Part 6: ARUN VA: Narrow escape from becoming a killer

 
Long Beach Press-Telegram
Saturday, April 21, 2012

LONG BEACH - For many refugees of the Cambodian genocide, the horrors didn't end when the shooting stopped. Nor did they end when the immigrants came to the United States in search of new lives. To this day, the conflicts pursue them.

"I still have dreams of someone shooting at me," says Roth Prum, as she rubs the leaves of a small plant between her fingers. "I scream until I wake myself up. I never have good dreams, only bad dreams."

Even 31 years after arriving in the United States, Prum expects she will always be affected by the 44 months of brutality she suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and the hard times that followed.

Although Prum meets with counselors, takes medication and is active in her church, she struggles daily with the memories, the dreams, the anxiety.

For people like Prum, the trauma was inflicted even after the Khmer Rouge were ousted. After being "liberated" by the Vietnamese, Prum says she was herded with others toward the border with Thailand.

"It was hell during our escape," she says. "There were so many Vietnamese troops. They point their guns at us."

Along the way, Prum said she saw dead bodies on the road and lived in fear. Eventually, Prum and her group met smugglers who helped them get to a refugee camp.

"I was so relieved. Finally, we reached a safe place," Prum says.

Or so she thought.

Although there was food, Prum said the camp was a dangerous place.

"Thai soldiers raped many girls," she says. "We don't know where they brought them."

Prum says every time she saw Americans, she begged them to bring her to the United States.

Finally in 1981, Prum got her wish.

Even life in the United States was not initially the heaven she had envisioned. With no money, no English skills, no job, Prum says once again she began to go hungry.

"It's been hell, even in rich America," Prum said, until she met a man who taught her how to receive food stamps.

Now 67, the tiny survivor of the Killing Fields manages to maintain her composure, but at times she seems to struggle.

Separated from her husband, who disappeared never to be seen again, Prum also lost both her mother and father to disease.

She nearly died herself from disease and overwork when she says "they forced me to work in the rice field, replacing the cow."

All told, Prum lost 17 family members during the atrocities, only three of whom have marked grave sites.

Despite the traumas, Prum says he is doing better now. She works where she can and lives alone.

She also joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and says that has helped.

"I joined the church, and I feel like I was saved by God," she says.

But even so, she says the past will always be there on the edges of her consciousness.

"Even if life is better," Prum says, "I think of my relatives left behind in Cambodia."