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Globe Northwest People

Discussing genocide

Email|Print| Text size + By Cindy Cantrell
February 24, 2008

While a person's name and birth date are major components of one's identity, Sayon Soeun (right) of Lowell says he can't be sure either of his is accurate. Both were assigned to him by a refugee camp relief worker in Thailand.

Born in the Takeo province of Cambodia around 1967, Soeun was taken away from his parents and siblings by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s to be trained as a child soldier.

"I was trained to fight," said Soeun, who carried a gun and witnessed executions, forced labor, and widespread illness and starvation. "They taught me not to trust anybody. They taught me to hate. It has been a very long road to becoming the person I am today."

Soeun credits his inner strength and the support of "many wonderful people" with helping him on his journey. In 1979, he fled to Thailand, where a church matched him with his adopted parents, two brothers, and a sister, whom he joined in Connecticut. In 1990, he moved to Lowell, where he is now executive director of Light of Cambodian Children Inc.

Although Soeun has not returned to his native country, he hopes next year to travel to Cambodia in search of his birth siblings - four brothers and two sisters, according to his memory.

"It's very sad to remember what happened in Cambodia, but sharing my story helps me heal," said Soeun, who will discuss his experiences this week as part of a genocide series at Northern Essex Community College. "Even people who are not rich in this country have the luxury of freedom. It should not be taken for granted."

Soeun's lecture will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Technology Center on the college's Haverhill campus. For more information, call Judith Kamber at 978-556-3955 or visit cit.necc.mass.edu/ofsd/genocide.shtml.

FAMILY MATTERS: Authors find inspiration in everything from adventure tales to nature. Eve LaPlante of Brookline only has to look as far as the historical figures in her family tree.

In 2004, LaPlante wrote a biography about her 12th-generation ancestor, Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan immigrant who challenged the male-dominated religious status quo in Boston before being banished and later massacred by Indians with five of her children in 1643.

Most recently, LaPlante has written about her sixth great-grandfather, Samuel Sewall, a Salem magistrate who presided over the conviction and execution of 20 people during the witch trials of 1692. After the trials were halted, Sewall realized his mistake and publicly apologized. He spent the remainder of his life trying to atone for his actions by writing essays attacking the immorality of slavery and advocating equal rights for women and Native Americans.

"I hope readers get a glimpse inside the life, emotions, and physical experience of living in another time period on the same land we're on today," said LaPlante, who coincidentally resides on land once owned by Sewall. "We can also use [Sewall's] experiences to look inward. What do we need to repent for? He gives us hope that we, too, can redeem ourselves and do better."

LaPlante will discuss "Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall" at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Andover Bookstore, 89 Rear Main St. For more information, call 978-475-0143.

STEPPING OUT: Determined that this will be the year she runs her first marathon, Kristin Kinsella of Reading began searching for a running club that would offer support and camaraderie. Her sister-in-law in Rochester, N.Y., recommended Moms in Motion, but there wasn't a Boston-area chapter. So Kinsella formed one.

On March 1, a 5K run/walk team will begin training sessions at 8 Saturday mornings in Reading, with speakers scheduled for the second hour to address equipment, injuries, nutrition, alternative therapies, and other topics. The goal, according to Kinsella, is for club members to compete in the Melrose Run for Women on Mother's Day, a 3.5-mile run/walk that supports the Melrose Alliance Against Violence.

Kinsella recently hired a trainer for the chapter's dozen members, but said women of all ages and running abilities may still join. Members do not have to be mothers, she said.

"Starting a [Moms in Motion] club is out of my comfort zone, but so is running a marathon," said Kinsella, who last ran a road race in the ninth grade. "The mission of the group is to encourage women to carve out time to take care of themselves while supporting a good cause."

To learn more, visit momsinmotion.com. People items may be submitted to Cindy Cantrell at cantrell@globe.com.

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