Southeast Asian Leaders Program


I am introducing myself to a class. On my right is my name in Chinese and Khmer.


Hello, my name is Roger Chenn. My hometown is San Jose, California, and I am a senior and Battery B, at the Culver Military Academy, in Indiana. Before moving to the States, however, I lived in Beijing, China for ten years. During those ten years, I experienced many aspects of Chinese life, but my most important experience was living in the mountains for two weeks. My parents were both raised in China, back when the population was generally impoverished. My father especially grew up in a village, and had to fight his way all the way for education in Beijing, and then in Chicago. He was very much grounded in his upbringing, and even though he is making a great living for himself and the family, it is still imperative for his children to remember that education does not come easy.

Despite my family’s effort to remind me of my heritage in the villages, living in the city has distanced me, and I no longer feel sympathetic to my father’s experiences. Seeing this, I was sent to the villages in Guizhou Province, and lived there for two weeks. I initially resented it, as many benefits of city life was not present there, but eventually I learned to embrace the children there. They are passionate, hardworking, and every bit as capable as their city counterparts. What they are missing is the opportunity to get a better education. Being a 10-year-old, I lacked any resources to properly help them, but I still managed to support one child with the help from my mother.

Two years ago, I learned that I had a connection to Cambodia, a country that has been relatively impoverished. Suddenly, memories of those two weeks sprung up, and now I finally have the resources and capability to help someone who is limited by their access to opportunity.