RIPPLE/Leanne Cloudman Siv Ashley, survivor of the Khmer Rouge invasion of Cambodia in the 1970s tells her story and shares her beliefs on the importance of prayer.
The Yadkin Ripple
By Leanne Cloudman
If ever there was a hero in our midst, one of them would have to be the petite fireball, Cambodian refugee, now US Citizen, Siv Ashley. With a quick laugh and a quicker wit, she moved her audience from laughter to tears with the gut-wrenching stories of her survival and most of her family’s horrific deaths at the hands of the Khmer Rouge toward the end of the Vietnam war.
Ashley’s father moved the family to Phnom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia when she was very small. He would take goods into the city to trade for things the family needed. When he returned he would tell stories about someone named Jesus Christ. “The country was very poor,” Ashely said. “We did not have books or t.v. or education. The stories my father told of a man who walked on water and was able to feed 1,000’s with very little were amazing to me.”
After he would tell the stories and teach the children to pray, he would remind them how important it was that all of what he had told them remain a secret. They could tell no one that they prayed to God and knew about Jesus Christ.
“We were poor,” said Ashley. We didn’t have stoves or t.v.’s. We slept on the ground, but we were happy and it was a peaceful life.”
Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975. In Dec. 1975, Pathet Lao overthrew the Cambodian government.
“When we saw the soldiers marching down the street, my little brother and I thought it was a parade,” said Ashley.
“My father came running down the street toward us. He took out his knife and chopped off all my hair so that I could pass for a boy and he told me to remember prayer and Jesus.”
Ashley and her entire family were removed to “the camps.” They were all separated and sent to different places. “We worked so hard,” she said, her voice breaking. “The small children worked in the rice fields from the time the sky got a little pink until dark. My little brother couldn’t work so hard or so fast and the soldiers beat him very bad. I think they broke his back. I begged them to let me do his share of the work.”
During the four-year reign of terror, the Khmer Rouge by way of execution, starvation and forced labor caused the deaths of an estimated 2 mil. Cambodian people.
Instilled in Siv at a very young age was the faith her father held onto until his horrific end at the hands of soldiers.
“We ate things you could not imagine, just to survive,” she said. “And I prayed.”
After her first escape attempt, she was caught along with others and returned to the camp. She remembered them lining up the adults and shooting them. Then the children were forced to dig a big ditch. She wasn’t aware until much later that the ditch would be used as a mass grave.
First her grandmother died, then her Aunt, the Aunt’s baby, then all her older brothers and sisters. “After my mom died, my father just didn’t want to live anymore.”
“When my father died,” she said, “I had nothing. I was in such despair and then I remember my father’s words and I prayed.”
When she could not find her little brother and was told he had died as well, things became even worse. She joined another escape attempt and made it Thailand to a refugee camp. There, through what she believes was God’s mercy, she was reunited with her one Aunt who had survived.
In 1979 she and what was left of her family were adopted by a family from Ashe County. “Of all the places and people,” she said smiling, “They chose my family out of 80,000 people. Pappy Sweet and Ina Ruth.”
Ashley related her first experience with snow. “We were terrified,” she said. “We hid under the beds because we thought the sky was falling.”
The story continues and when Siv Ashley finishes her book, maybe all will be able to read the entire story.
Siv lives happily now in Hamptonville with her husband and two children and is an active member of Swan Creek Baptist Church. But she promises she will never forget, nor let others forget how important prayer can be. “It can save your life,” she says.