Today I’m talking with Sara Im, who, after surviving a mass genocide in Cambodia that claimed 2 million lives, is a speaker and author of “How I Survived the Killing Fields.” She is a member of the Women’s Speaker Association and speaks to inspire listeners to thrive from pain to purpose, from corporate events to churches to schools. Today, she’s here to speak loud about never giving up on anything in life.
Sara was born and raised in Cambodia, and was attending college at 21 when a military takeover in her country forced her out of the city and into the countryside to work in a labor camp. She experienced extreme exhaustion, sickness, and punishment for 4 years while forced to work in the rice fields. Often malnourished, Sara turned to prayer in her darkest moments, and clung to hope of seeing her family again.
After four years, Sara recalls hearing noise in the distance that could have been gunfire or explosions. Though they didn’t know what was happening, the laborers—once 1000, and now around 300 people—were moved out of the camp and towards the jungle. Sara knew she had to do something drastic, so she took the chance and escaped with 3 friends. They ran into the jungle and walked for weeks back to Sara’s hometown, where she was eventually reunited with her family after seeing the devastation that had come to her home.
After Cambodia was liberated, Sara recuperated for a year at home. She had no college to go back to, as most professors and educated people had been killed. After that year, her mother told her that she would have a better future in another country, and encouraged her to escape once more. Sara crossed the border from Cambodia to Thailand and found a refugee camp run by the UN.
After registering, she searched for her single relative in the U.S. who would be able to help her get into the country—bringing her to Connecticut. Her relative was transferred before Sara ever arrived, but she was grateful for the church people who helped her settle, find a place to live, and learn English during the difficult transition. Soon, she was on her own two feet and able to bring her family to the U.S., as well.
Sara was encouraged by many people to write a book after hearing her story. Once, during speaking, one woman in her group came to her crying, sharing with Sara that she had lost her teenaged son to suicide. Sara was shocked, having naively thought that all people in the U.S. would be happier, and thought that if she could write her story, she could help change people’s minds about taking their lives.
After publishing her book, Sara received many testimonials about how reading it changed people’s lives. “It’s all worth it,” she says, reflecting on the change her book has done for people. “Struggling four years in the rice field, now I can save somebody’s life.” Beyond writing, she still continues as a professional speaker. Sara hopes listeners know to always H.O.P.E.: Have Only Positive Expectations. Things always change.
Listen in to learn more about Sara’s experience with writing and publishing, her religious awakening, and what her plans for the next 5 years are.
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