For one Project HOPE volunteer, Pacific Partnership 2012 is more
than a chance to give something back.
It is a chance to face 33-years of
uncertainty about her past.
When Cambodian-born Danielle Pech Carson, a Project HOPE volunteer,
went ashore in Cambodia to bring medical assistance, she cried.
Not because she was sad to be there, but rather because it was the
first time she had been to Cambodia since her family fled the
aftermath of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
"I was emotionally stunned once I stepped on land, it did not take
me long for the memories to come back,” Danielle said.
“When I left I was a little girl, young and helpless."
"Now I have returned and my eyes are filled with tears.
Danielle's mother Samantha Pfeiffer flew to Cambodia to meet with
relatives and be at the pier in Sihanoukville when Danielle took her
first steps back onto her homeland.
"My mother told me she felt the same way the first time she came
back and completely understood my emotions," Danielle said.
“We were overjoyed to be together with family, and when we went to
the car it was filled with the fruits that I loved when I was a
child in Cambodia."
Danielle was born in Cambodia in 1968, and left in 1979 when she was
"I experienced freedom in Cambodia until the age of seven,” she
“Then the Khmer Rougue took over in 1975.
“I was in total shock emotionally, and physically we were living
under the constant threat of starvation.”
“We were always sick.”
Danielle said her mother worked hard to keep her and her sister
alive during the four-year period before the Vietnamese liberated
Cambodia in 1979 and her family escaped.
"My mother didn't want to stay in the country because it was
politically unstable, she knew we could have a better life somewhere
else," Danielle said.
"We escaped to Thailand with the hope of having a better life, and
we ended up at a refugee camp at the Thai border."
The family was at the camp for about three weeks before a Methodist
church group in Florida sponsored their way to America.
With a new life came new hope and a chance for Samantha Pfeiffer to
see her daughter adapt to her new surroundings.
"She studied so hard, up till 2 am each day” Samantha said.
“They put her in the third grade and then she started jumping
grades, from fifth to seventh to eighth, really fast.
"She studied so hard… and she continues to study hard today."