The Project AWAREE Program helps Khmer Rouge killing fields and abuse survivor navigate the road to recovery and US citizenship.
Here is Mrs. Sou’s horrific journey.
Mrs. Sou is a 61 year old Cambodian who faced unthinkable horrors in her early years. Few survived the terrors of the Khmer Rouge killing fields, and those that did are haunted with horrible and life challenging experiences and memories.
Mrs. Sou was forced to work in a labor camp. Not only that, but along with the imposed labor she had little food to eat. She viewed human suffering on a daily basis. She was separated from her husband by the regime and assumed that he had been killed. She had to deal with the horror of a son who committed suicide due to abuse from his step-father by strapping on grenades. Another son was still-born as a result of the sexual trauma she experienced from her abusive husband. Her daughter was also physically abused by her ex-husband. Mrs. Sou’s mother died as result, she feels, of being injected with the wrong medication by a Cambodian doctor.
Mrs. Sou blamed herself for her mother and sons’ deaths. Mrs. Sou came to America in 2003. She felt dreadful and depressed about not being able to protect her family members, stating “I was able to escape the jungle of the killing fields but I could not protect everybody from my abusive husband.” Mrs. Sou’s second husband has been physically, mentally, and sexually abusive to her for the past 28 years. She described this relationship as “28 years in hell on earth.” It was only through her unbelievable strength and resiliency that she survives.
On the road to recovery … and US citizenship with Project AWAREE.
Mrs. Sou is currently living with her daughter and son. She is a wonderful baker and enjoys cooking traditional Cambodian foods.
Many in the Asian community view mental health services as undesirable and unreachable due to the cultural shame and stigma associated with them. Although she survived the Khmer Rouge killing fields, Mrs. Sou was facing difficult times based on her previous experiences and her current situation. On initial screening, we identified significant anxiety, depression, and lack of social supports.
Mrs. Sou was referred to Project AWAREE for intervention. She was diagnosed with complex trauma, complicated grief and depression with psychotic features.
Project AWAREE provides culturally responsive approaches based on developing mental and emotional wellness through an improved understanding of family dynamics and community awareness. Most importantly, it helps overcome language and cultural barriers to mental health and recovery.
Results with Mrs. Sou to date include:
- Using Intercultural’s empathetic clinicians, Mrs. Sou receives therapy on a regular basis utilizing the AWAREE model of cultural sensitivity.
- We have been able to help Mrs. Sou, as a result of her challenging financial circumstances, with a fee waiver.
- We have been advocating for a medical waiver for Mrs. Sou, helping assess whether she meets the criteria for the waiver.
- We have been assisting Mrs. Sou’s application for US citizenship, which will help to further empower her.
- We provided Mrs. Sou with an audio CD in her native language with study guide materials so that she will understand and pass the citizenship exam.
- We have helped expedite and support an interview with an INS officer for Mrs. Sou’s US citizenship application.
- She became U.S citizen on May 06th, 2013.
- Mrs. Sou is now ready to practice meditation; we have provided her the CD in her native language to learn how to do Vipassana (meditation). She practices meditation twice a day.
- Mrs. Sou agreed to be on the film project to discuss stigma regarding mental health and encourages people by using her story to motivate others why it is important to seek help.
Comments from Mrs. Sou’s therapist
“Mrs. Sou began treatment complaining of inability to sleep, debilitating sadness, crying every day, and severe anxiety that was manifested by heart palpitations, sweating, and racing thoughts, these effects due to her time spent in the Cambodian prison. She had to routinely witness executions of adults and children, which was terribly traumatic.
“The Project AWAREE model is a combination of clinical treatment and sensitivity to religious beliefs. I had to consider her feelings about Karma to help her identify at what point in her life the negative circumstances resulted. This and identifying the cycle of her symptoms were the initial phase of treatment.
“Gradually, Mrs. Sou discovered more about her diagnoses and was able to believe that her son may have been deeply depressed, traumatized, and had low coping abilities at the time of his suicide. This allowed Ms. Sou to begin to take the blame off of herself. With the use of Buddhist principles (the five elements) and continued psycho-education, Ms.Sou understood why she became involved with her second husband and she gradually gained inner strength.
“Ultimately, Mrs. Sou was able to understand her suffering in a different way. Her true healing began when she was able to meditate, chant, and pray for the well-being of her ex-husband, a practice used by a Buddhist who wishes to avoid negative Karma that would result by taking revenge. Instead, it is good Karma to love your enemy. Mrs. Sou found her way to the path of forgiveness and recovery.
"Mrs. Sou's continued recovery is an ideal example of the effectiveness of the Project AWAREE Model. To see this phenomenal woman today, you would have no clue that she was unable to get out of bed or leave her house just six months before.”
Mrs. Sou has given permission to tell her story in the hope that others can learn from her successes and can find the strengths to successfully address their emotional needs without shame. She is a brave and courageous role model.