When Larry Grimes makes his pilgrimage back to Indiana from his home in Tampa, Fla., it’ll be for more than just his 45th Crawfordsville High School reunion.
An Advanced Placement History teacher at Bayshore Christian School in Tampa, Grimes teaches a year-long course on the Holocaust and genocide. But he doesn’t just teach the subject, he remains a student, as well, traveling to Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Africa and most recently Cambodia in May to experience life after genocide firsthand.
Grimes will bring his expertise home and speak at the Crawfordsville District Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday about his trip to Cambodia. He traveled with Sophal Leng Stagg, who was just nine years old when the Khmer Rouge forced all residents of Phnom Penh to leave their homes in April 1975.
“It was incredible seeing Cambodia through the eyes of a survivor of the genocide there,” Grimes said. Stagg, who goes by ‘Sophie,’ runs the Southeast Asian Children’s Mercy Fund with her husband, Bill. “Traveling with Sophie gives you so much more information than you would ever get from a tour guide. We visited the S21 Prison and the killing fields memorials. Her story of survival was beyond belief.”
They also helped out those who remain in Cambodia and are still trying to dig their way out from under the Khmer Rouge’s regime. Grimes and the group worked with villagers, educating and filling life’s basic needs.
“People are so uneducated there about their own history and about how to improve their own lives,” Grimes said. “But there’s still a lot of bitterness.”
The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Over that period of time approximately 2 million lives were lost as a result of political executions, starvation and forced labor.
“Cambodia was a forgotten country then,” he said. “No one was willing to get involved in another war. Cambodia is still forgotten. I’ve been to Rwanda and, as crazy as it may sound, they have advanced more since their genocide than the Cambodians. They have a better infrastructure, government, technology. It’s crazy. That’s why I teach these things. People need to know.”
Those who attend Thursday’s talk will get to hear the stories of the villagers stepping into their new hut for the first time, they’ll get to hear Sophie’s accounts of living under the Khmer Rouge through Grimes and they’ll get a chance to help the people of Cambodia.
“The population of Cambodia is 14 million people. Seventy percent of the population are younger than the age of 30. So much is needed,” Grimes said, determined to do all that he can and encourage others to do the same. “I gave a talk at the library before about Rwanda and the reaction was great. I’m hoping to see a full room.”
There is no charge to attend and the presentation is open to the public.