The Khmer Rouge destroyed education in Cambodia – now the country is fighting back

In a quiet suburb of Phnom Penh, former primary school teacher Samphy, 72, is seated at her dining table. She reminds us that it was only 40 years ago that an estimated two million people perished under the regime of the Khmer Rouge, orchestrated by the Marxist nationalist dictator Pol Pot. 

The so-called “New Cambodia” only lasted four years between 1975 and 1979, but marked an end to over two thousand years of Cambodian history. Pol Pot’s social engineering experiment to create a “master race” failed. His legacy is a nation partially paralysed, but fighting to emerge from the darkness, brutality and horror of a genocide.

The Khmer Rouge had closed Cambodia off from the outside world. All residents were forcibly dragged out of major cities, including Phnom Penh. Even educators like Samphy were banished to the provinces to work under the brutality of the regime.

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