By Neth Pheaktra
47 years ago, in 1964, a baby boy was born into a middle class farmer family in Svay Rieng Province. His beloved parents gave him the name Sambath Reach. He grew up to become a smart and lovely child. The young boy Sambath Reach, just like all other children at the time had to suffer through the Khmer Rouge regime which led the country to devastation from 17 April 1975 to 6 January 1979.
At the time the Khmer Rouge took power, he was a boy in need of food, education and caring love from his parents, yet he was only surrounded by suffering, sadness and hunger attributable to the living conditions created by the new regime. He was separated from his parents, and forced to live in a children’s unit and had to work very hard. He was skinny and pale, but the smile of a pure and innocent boy remained in his heart. During this period of terror, his parents and four of his siblings perished. To lose his parents and siblings was the saddest thing for him to experience, and this was something he would never forget.
Sambath Reach and his only remaining brother, Reach Samnang, became orphans whose survival would depend on their own struggle, and support from relatives other people around him. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, he walked on foot from Battambang to Svay Rieng, before moving to Phnom Penh. In the capitol he struggled to find ways to feed himself and to get education. He studied at Wat Phnom primary school and he graduated from Preah Sisowath high school in 1987. During his time in high school, he survived by teaching English part time at a school behind the Royal Palace (Sala Krouy Vaing). Already at this point, he became a popular and beloved teacher.
Reach Sambath’s life was filled with obstacles and hard struggles. He had gone through a myriad of tough experience such as being a pagoda boy and bike taxi man. He had bitter and sweet memories from these challenging times, and he always told the next generation (his students and children) about his own struggles in life. He also shared his memories from the past with new friends as well as his longstanding friends from his childhood days. He became popular for his unexhausted and mischievous jokes, and for his unconditional kindness and friendliness towards others. He kept some of his old belongings to remember the past, such as a bike that he had used since 1980s. He loved the memories connected to these belonging, and regarded them as part of his life and something that defined who he was.
In 1988, Reach Sambath received scholarship to India where he embarked on four years of agricultural science studies. After returning to Cambodia, he started what was to become a long distinguished journalist career with AFP news agency, earning him an outstanding respect and reputation both nationally and internationally. After the UNTAC elections in 1993, the young man pursued studies in the field of journalism at Chulalongkorn University. Subsequently he studied public administration, telecommunication and journalism at California State University, Fullerton. He also received other extensive training abroad in the field of journalism, including a 3 months stay in Germany.
In 2000 he won a scholarship to the prestigious Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York, where he earned a master’s degree in 2001. He took up teaching at the Department of Media and Communication at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, where he become a beloved lecturer who influenced a whole generation of Cambodian journalists.
After a long career as a journalist, he became a spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in early 2006, and then in 2009 he was promoted to Chief of the Public Affairs Section at the ECCC.
Both in his professional and private life, Reach Sambath enjoyed the deepest respect and love. With his ability and friendliness, both his friends and colleagues had recognized him as a gentle man and a man of Buddhist virtue. He was known for his sense of humor, and he liked entertaining others. In his house, he kept a variety of drums and other musical instruments. Decorating his house with lots of plants was his favorite. At home, he always talked to his parrot with his sharp voice. He was a man of Buddhism follower as he used to be a pagoda boy.
Millions of people know him well through the job he held for the KR tribunal. He had helped millions of Cambodians to understand the KR trials by explaining the work of the court to the visitors as well as those who hear news on TVs and radios. Reach Sambath went to various Cambodia’s provinces together with his Public Affairs team. He was also a journalism trainer who had trained numerous talented journalists. His students and colleagues often rated his work high and considered him as the country’s highly-educated individual and a priceless human resource. He was a catalyst in changing the image of Cambodia’s press. He was revered not only by the Cambodians but also by the expatriates who had known him. He was the kind of person who always took care of others’ well-being more than his own. He was a kind person who befriended faithfully with others.
His good deeds – raising awareness of all people on the court’s trial procedure over the former Khmer Rough cadres – for the sake of the humanity and Cambodian nationals was unforgettable. At one time he said that he was not furious with any of those KR cadres. What he had done was aimed to seek justice for the whole nation… not to take revenge those who had caused his parents’ demise. This is the truly kind quality of the Buddhism he followed.
His activeness in serving the nation and his family ended up discouraging for all those who knew him. Reach Sambath,47, the Chief of tribunal’s Public Affairs Section, passed away at 8:45 p.m. on May 11, 2011 in Calmette Hospital after a team of doctors had tried their best to save his life. Reach Sambath first suffered serious high blood pressure and stroke on May 10 at 4:40 p.m. when he was performing his duty in his office. He was rushed to Calmette Hospital for emergency rescue. Both foreign and local doctors tried hard to save him, planning to send him on medical evacuation to a Bangkok hospital. The critical condition of his health, did not allow for him being transported as planned on Wednesday 11 May. He passed away just a few minutes after the decision to postpone the medical evacuation was made.
Reach Sambath, loved by his family, friends, students and colleagues will be missed by us all. He left this world far too young, without being able to say goodbye to his wife and children who he cherished and love more than anything else on this earth.
“Now it’s over for me,” was his last words after he fell ill. This last saying made us feel only sadness and sorrow, for a man who was a capacity in society, a good husband and father in family, a good elder brother for his interiors, honest fellow worker for the colleagues and a truthful friend.
Now Reach Sambath, who used to be friendly, has become a body without spirit, no longer able to speak to us all or to make fun with us after a day of hard work. No longer will we able to share meals with each others, and join together in singing songs when we relax after work, and no longer will he be able to share his working experience with us. Reach Sambath always kept his smile with all of us, but he cannot reply to us anymore. He kept his love and loyalty with nation, family and friends.
All friends and workmates share the agony of death with his family members and pray for his conscience to go to paradise and soon to be a new born. Body, Suffering Uncertain, non-self, Buddhist precept. May Sambath’s spirit be peaceful. We will always remember our husband, father, brother, friend and teacher. We lost someone we loved dearly.