Staff Spotlight: Jenna Noah


Jenna Noah: Conference Organizer

We believe that the best experiences in life only grow more meaningful when shared, so we are highlighting members of our incredible community.

Allow us to introduce you to Jenna Noah.

Jenna is our conference organizer and volunteer liaison on staff for our 2018 Nourish Conference in Cambodia!


Boulder Therapy Center: Providing Psychological Services in the Front Range

She has an in-person and videoconferencing therapeutic practice for individuals and couples called The Boulder Therapy Center focusing on sexuality, relationship, and gender.

Check out her individual page at


The Alchemy of Movement: Dance for Joy!



Also in Boulder, CO she owns a dance studio called The Alchemy of Movement.



Take a look at her interview below to learn more about this dynamic therapist and member of our Partners for Social Justice team!


Partners for Social Justice (PSJ): Where/how did you grow-up? How has where/how you’ve grown-up affected you?

Jenna Noah (JN): I grew up in Northern California in a large and boisterous family. I am the eldest of five children. I think being the eldest in such a large family impacted me in a lot of ways. For example, I am often in leadership roles, serve on several boards, and enjoy creating businesses and problem solving. Not to mention being from a large family means you can often hear my laugh from across a room (I am the one who is most often hushed in restaurants).

PSJ: Where are you living right now? What is your favorite part about where you are living now?

JN: I live in a beautiful Victorian off Pearl St. in Boulder. I love the mountain air, skiing, the community, dancing, and the amazing artists that surround me.

PSJ: Where did you go to school?

JN: I went to undergraduate at UCSD, I did my Masters at Naropa University, I am currently a PhD student at Saybrook University.

PSJ: What is your occupation? What is your favorite part about what you do?

JN: I have a therapeutic practice and therapeutic center that is called The Boulder Therapy Center.  I see couples and individuals both in person and online surrounding the topic of sexuality, relationship, and gender in my practice.  Additionally, I own an amazing dance studio called Alchemy of Movement.

PSJ: What is your role with Partners for Social Justice?

JN: I am a conference organizer for Partners for Social Justice.

PSJ: How did you hear about Partners for Social Justice (neé Naropa Community Art Studio -International)?

JN: I heard about this organization several years ago. I organized a Valentine’s Day dance show that was a charity benefit that helped raise money for the organization. Since that time, I have regularly supported the painting marathon fundraiser, another charity benefit project that has helped raise funds for this organization, as a M.C. and support. I have been very called to support victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia for some time. I mentioned my intention to Sue last year and she invited me aboard to help out with this year’s trip.

PSJ: Have you been to Cambodia before?

JN: I have been to Thailand, China, and Malaysia on different occasions I have never been to Cambodia.

PSJ: What part of Partners for Social Justice’s mission and values speaks to you most? Why are you passionate about this work?

JN: I am specifically inspired by the conference topic of care for the caregiver. I find that even in Boulder working in the helping field can have a tax on my wellbeing at times. Self-care is pivotal in remaining healthy and balanced. The type of trauma that healing professionals are treating in Cambodia is unlike what we are accustomed to in the states. I feel that offering a conference of this type is unlike anything that has been done before and there is a great deal of interest and need for this work.

PSJ: Are you coming to the 2018 Nourish conference in Cambodia? If so, how are you feeling about it?

JN: Yes! I am thrilled!

And we’re thrilled to have Jenna leading the way to our 1st Nourish Wellbeing Conference in Cambodia next month!




Interview conducted by volunteer Maren Corbly.

Make sure to check back right here on our blog to learn more about other members of our Partners for Social Justice team.

KGNU Interview with Sue Wallingford

Art Therapy to help sex trafficking victims

Posted: February 4, 2016 at 3:51 pm by , in Breaking News, Featured, Morning Magazine

“(it’s) a way to make some sort of meaning to what feels completely incomprehensible.”

Sue Wallingford, Associate Professor in the graduate school of psychology at Naropa University in Boulder has been working alongside a group of her students to bring art therapy to women and children who have been trafficked in the sex industry in Cambodia.

“There’s a high risk of sex trade in South East Asia, particularly in Cambodia and its bordering countries of Thailand Laos and Vietnam because that’s where victims are usually trafficked to and from.” Cambodia is on the State Departments tier 2 trafficking watch list which means that the country has a significant number of trafficking victims. It is estimated that 1/3 of sex trafficking victims are below the age of 18.

Wallingford says that there has been a lack of action on the part of the Cambodian authorities to clamp down on the problem. “It’s a corrupt government, combined with the economic disparity between the urban and the rural areas, the very extreme poverty level and the high illiteracy rates, it’s a hot bed for sex trafficking.”

In 2011 Wallingford and some of her students at Naropa decided to go to Cambodia to bring art therapy to social justice organizations. “We started talking about where we might like to go and populations we’d like to serve and before we knew it we had a whole cohort of students who said ‘yeah we really want to do this.’”

They worked directly with the Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center to provide art therapy to support the victims. “It provides the opportunity for people to tell a story, to share a feeling or a struggle in a way that cannot be expressed in words. It’s a way to find some distance from the story or the feeling, a way to make some sort of meaning to what feels completely incomprehensible.”

Wallingford says one of the main goals of the project was to empower local organizations to use art therapy to help sex trafficking victims and to create a sustainable model. They trained the clinical teams that were at the CWCC “we did work with the community a lot, trauma informed art therapy “from that model we helped them learn techniques and interventions that they can use with their girls to help combat and help the girls self-regulate from the experiences that they had.”

Images: Naropa Graduate Students and the staff at Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center.   The mandala behind was worked on by the whole community (courtesy of Sue Wallingford)


Wallingford is speaking about her art therapy work in Cambodia with a group of international visitors who are visiting Naropa in the first week in February, as part of a US State Department tour to learn more about human trafficking and sex workers.

Always Remember… Never Forget.


Blog by Sue Wallingford

     It’s been several weeks since our return from Cambodia. I can no longer blame jet lag for my foggy mind, memory lags and that abiding sense of malaise that sticks to me like the sticky film of dusty sweat caused by the sweltering heat of the south asian sun. The scenes of Cambodia visit me daily and have become a familiar place in my psychic landscape. Memory fragments, holding emotions of every flavor and texture, haunt me, relentlessly whispering again and again, “Always remember, never forget.”

     Following our work at CWCC (Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center) and the trips to the Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields) and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum our team met in an attempt to “process” all the stories of trauma we had heard and seen. The need to make sense, put words to the sensory overload, was just too much to bear. Even the daily meditations and response art couldn’t touch into the immensity of the experiences we shared in just a few days. And then, confused even more by fits of shopping, bolts of spontaneous laughter, genuine connections and toasts of celebrations! It was like trying to talk about the impossible.

     In my attempt to bring some sort of peaceful lid to the vicarious trauma and suffering our group was feeling I offered what I know about the brain and the way it processes new information. “Of course we couldn’t make sense of it all, or articulate what was happening because our brains were working overtime to just merely assimilate and sort into categories the constant barrage of new stimulus!” The new sights, sounds, taste, smells of being in a foreign country alone was keeping our brains too busy to even begin to make meaning out of all the emotions that had been unleashed. So, to not have the ability to speak of it made sense, right? Nice try. I convinced my self of this too.

     And while the above may be true, it should not become a convenient excuse. The words need to be spoken – if not then, then now. At least a beginning attempt…

     As a way to put words to what feels unspeakable, the impossible story, I am reminded of a conversation I had with one of the girls at CWCC.

     Maly, a girl just entering her teen years, had been at CWCC for over a year. Her mother and father had moved her and her sister to Thailand because they needed to find work or else starve. When away at work, sometimes for 12 hours shifts, they had to leave her and her sister alone at home. One day as Maly wandered to her favorite play place in the woods, a neighbor followed her there and then raped her. This raping ritual went on for weeks before her parents found out. The neighborhood boy expecting her to show up in this “special spot” everyday threatened her life and her sisters if she told.

     Before being brought to Thailand Maly had lived in a small province near Battambang with her grandparents were she recalled happy and abundant times. Her grandparents she describes were caring, wealthy and loved her very much. But now, because she was “soiled,” her grandparents didn’t want her, and her parents couldn’t care for her either.

     When I saw Maly in the crowd of children gathered to greet us upon our arrival I was comforted by my remembrance of her from our last year’s visit. Our mutual smiles of recognition instantly brought a sense of trust and eased the anxiety we both felt. This glance of recollection was all it took to not be perceived as a threat; rather it initiated a memory of something good, bathing our brains in feel good endorphins. For me the remembering was simple, mostly comforting. For Maly, I imagine, it was complicated, marred by her history of trauma and heart wrenching abandonment.

     After we had made our introductions and we were making our transition to the community room where we would make art together for the next two weeks, Maly approached me. She looked at me so expectedly, fearlessly even, as if I were an apparition able to ease her mind in some essential way.

      She asserted, in fairly good English. “You remembered me, and you came back, but when you left before, I miss you so much.”

     My heart open, cracked a little bit. Tears filled both our eyes. I told her I missed her very much too and shared how happy I was to see her again. I couldn’t tolerate the idea of telling her that our stay was short, risking the probable possibility that she would be mad at me for leaving again. My little-bit cracked heart couldn’t open anymore. Not now. My tear filled eyes dried up and I went about the business of setting up the space. Maly, went off with her friends.

     The 2 weeks flew by and the groups’ fears of “not helping”, “not making a difference”, and “not making authentic connections” dissipated quickly as the art space was filled with brightly colored tissue-paper flowers, ribboned wands, mandala drawings, circling pin-wheels, string webs, clay figures, and lit hope-filled lanterns. Art literally filled the space; the sound of laughter, song, and lullabies of Khmer mixed with English lingered. The completed wall mural of three young Cambodian girls protectively holding hands around a freshly bloomed lotus seemed to say it all.

     On the last day, amid the testament and remnants of the days past, Maly came to me again, tears spilling over this time.

     “Mommy,” she said (she had started to call me this, even though she knew it wasn’t the correct way to address me), “Always remember me, don’t forget me.”

     With great conviction and strength I had only seen glimmers of before, she grabbed my hands and gaze, and stopped me in my steps, demanding my full attention.

     Pointing to my heart first she began her chant,


     then putting her hands over her heart,


     and pointing to herself,


     Three times we did this routine, me mirroring her, and never once averting our gaze.

     The last thing I said was this chant through the window of the van, as we drove away.


     This message from Maly, though so relevant to our personal relationship and the love we risked despite all that separated us, has a much deeper and profound meaning. Her message, her request, is a message that reaches far beyond our relationship. Her hand held, unwavering gaze repeated plea to me to NEVER FORGET is the call of the Cambodian people, and the relentless whisper that haunts me daily.

     On April 17, 1975 until January 1979, nearly 2 million Cambodian people died under the rule of the Khmer Rouge from massive executions, torture, starvation, disease and over-exhaustion. Referred to as Year Zero, people of all ages; families, doctors, lawyers, teachers, monks and artists were systematically purged out of the society to be replaced by a classless, purely agrarian civilization. The Cambodian culture and traditions overnight came to an abrupt halt. People were to answer only to one ruler, a faceless concept called, “Angkor.”

     Just a few years prior to this on March 18, 1969, the US began a 14-month secret carpet-bombing campaign that reigned over the skies and countryside of Cambodia, in order to cut off supply routes and base camps of the Viet Cong forces. In these fourteen months it is estimated that nearly 3 million tons of bombs were dropped, exceeding the amount of bombs dropped on Japan during WWII by almost a million. As many as 300,000 Cambodians were killed and hundreds of thousands more were displaced. The Khmer Rouge, which previously had been an insignificant threat, hiding out in the jungles saw this as a ripe opportunity to exploit the U.S. aerial bombardment as a means of propaganda. Seemingly overnight the regime quickly grew in numbers and power enlisting many teenage boys and girls angry about the devastation of their once peaceful land.

     It is not hard to deduce from this chain of events that our animosity toward Vietnam Soviet backers, our new alliance with China and our clandestine bombing operation literally helped lay the ground for one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century.

     So when Maly asked me to never forget her, I hear generations of Cambodian voices behind her. Voices from those I have seen and not seen. Voices I heard when I walked within the claustrophobic stone-stark blood stained walls of S21. I hear it from Arn Chorn Pond, who lives each day proclaiming this message in his every breath, as if paying penitence for the tremendous trauma he experienced. I felt it in the dance, the performances, the music and the soul of the Cambodian collective expressed in every art form. I saw it in the painted landscapes and sculptures of traditional and contemporary art. I saw it in the mud encased bones and clothe remnants surfacing from the pits at the Killing Fields. Reminders are everywhere, but no more so than in the faces of the Cambodian people I passed everyday.

     The trauma is not over. A large portion of the Cambodian people still struggle with the demons of their past very present in their lives today. Struggling to survive each day, far to many Cambodians suffer from deep emotional and spiritual wounds due to what happen during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, and the worlds decision to look away. In a society that was nearly exterminated, the people of Cambodia are barely scraping by, holding on to threads of hope that some day they might regain all they lost. The kingdom of Cambodia was once a place of plenty, a utopian, prosperous society. The people were gentle, kind and at peace. And surprisingly, for the most part, despite their horrendous history, this is still true.

     We have turned our backs too long, conveniently forgotten, or given in to the malaise and confusion of not being able to form our words. The cry of the Cambodian people is a cry to all people… and all beings that share this place we call our earth-home. Because it is still happening.

Never forget.
Open your mind,
soften your heart, and
peer deep into the bones of lives lost.
Unearth the history, and trauma past.
Listen to the cry of generations before you,
that lay bare in the unspeakable pain.
Reach out your hand,
look into the gaze of your sister and brother,
and pay close attention.
Never turn away,
this could be you,
this is you.
Always Remember.

Never forget.

Names and part of the story have been changed to protect the privacy of “Maly.”

Building A Global Web

By Emma Ehrenthal

 View More: trip we spent a year planning has come and gone already, leaving me wondering: What now? What can I take away from these intense three weeks? One intention I had for this trip was to create meaningful personal connections, in order to contribute to the larger global web of women. On this trip we worked on a small personal level by connecting one-on-one with clients and building relationships with staff members, while also stepping back and putting issues into a larger context by visiting the Killing Fields, and learning about social justice and NGO networks. In this blog I am going to focus my gaze on one meaningful interaction with a woman who looks at the health of our global community and works on both a small and large scale to contribute in a meaningful way.

I met Sam Sokha in Siem Reap our first week when we stayed at Soria Moria. Every morning I waited excitedly for Sokha to come to the hotel because she always pointed our explorations in the right direction. It’s comforting when you are in a new country to have such a knowledgeable hostess. It wasn’t until the last day while I was waiting for the bus that I sat with her long enough to meet her. While we exchanged language lessons, I began to ask Sokha to share her story with me.Besøk-fra-Quality-Hotel-ExpoSam Sokha works as the Community Outreach Program Organizer at the Soria Moria hotel (Michelle wrote early on the blog about the hotel’s efforts to be socially conscious in their local community). Talking to Sokha I saw the passion that she shared with her employer for social justice. Sokha’s hope to create a better world has fueled her work to empower women in her community. Helen Keller said: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope or confidence.” I was inspired seeing Sokha glow when she talked about her work, which was full of struggle and obstacles caused by social norms and life’s daily challenges. These daily struggles are what get in most people’s way of fulfilling their dreams. But Sokha sees the bigger picture. As a working single mom helping to support her older parents she has every excuse to not have extra energy to spend on organizing local community support groups for women, finishing her education, or traveling to conferences to make global connections for working Cambodia women. But Sokha does all of this. She is doing the work and in return all she is asking for is for people to show up.

Sam Sokha is a single mother with a son. She explained to me how she had seen many women commit suicide after getting divorced because they felt so desperate. Kuch Naren and Samantha Melamed write about this issue in The Cambodian Daily, explaining that when woman choice to divorce in Cambodia they lose all their rights to remarry, for property ownership, and for child custody.  She made a hard choice to fight against the social norms and not see her life as over when her marriage ended, Sokha worked hard to get an education and career in order to provide for her family.

Sokha met Kristin Holdon Hansen, the founder of Soria Moria, while Hansen was first traveling in Cambodia. The women shared a passion for women’s rights, social justice, and Cambodia. When Hansen decided to open a socially conscious hotel in Cambodia she asked Sam Sokha to come work with her. Sokha began working at Soria Moria in 2007. The hotel funded Sokha’s education, and she received a degree in tourism and hospitality at Build Bright University. In 2012 Sokha took on the role of Community Outreach Program Manager, involving her in many exciting social justice programs and allowing her to share these responsible tourism approaches with other hotels.   Some of these programs involve employee ownership, local employment, employee training programs, teaming up with local NGOs in skills and training programs, employee higher education programs (currently supporting 9 bachelors level and 3 masters level employee students), language and literacy classes, educational staff training trips, helping guests support ethically run local organizations, raising environmental consciousness, and providing insurance for employees. As a local Cambodian in Siem Reap, Sokha knows what the community needs and helps make the social justice programs at Soria Moria relevant to the community.

Sam Sokha was invited to represent Soria Moria at the 2013 Social Enterprise for Youth and Community Organization Conference. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Professor Yunus also spoke at the conference about socially conscious ways to generate employment and grow the local economy. Sokha glowed while talking about the conference and I could see how powerful it was for her to be surrounded by people who shared her dream. Knowing that we are not alone in our goals and our struggles creates a unity that provides energy and hope when we need support.

Recently Sokha has been organizing a support group for women in her local community to help educate them about how to build their own careers so they can be financially independent. When Sokha talked about the women’s group she sighed and looked tired, explaining her frustration with the group. Often the women didn’t show up offering excuses about making dinner, cleaning, and feeling rundown and tired. Sokha knows these challenges are real and exhausting, but she explained that she has them also and is still able to show up. Sokha is able to see the bigger picture in her life and in the lives of women around her. She also sees the cycle they are caught in, and that she can only do so much. Seiyon discuses the traditional gender roles in Cambodia and who they are changing in her blog. These women have to join her in the work in order to make their community a better place.

Sokha has built a strong support system around her at Soria Moria and she is working to extend that support system globally. She has helped build an exchange program with Quality Hotel Expo in Norway called the Cambodia-Norway Exchange for Sustainable Tourism.  Two employees from Soria Moria will change places for a year with two employees from Quality Hotels.   The program’s goals are for the employees to experience and learn about other cultures in the hope of developing the employee’s global justice leadership skills. This program that Sokha helped create looks at social justice on a global level.

Women in Cambodia are coming together to support each other and make their voices heard.  The Cambodian Center for Human Rights is starting a program called, The Empowering Cloghers Project, the program provides women the tools and training for them to voice there thoughts global through blogs, (Wight, 2014).  Like Sam Sokha, this program’s goal is to change the social norms for women in Cambodia and they are reaching out to our global community for support.

NCASI also wants to build and strengthen female global support.  NCASI is helping our Women’s Handicraft and Development Association (WHADA) partners build financial connections in the United States so they can independently sell here. WHADA was formed in 2008, it is a women’s cooperative that produces beautiful coconut jewelry, scarves, bracelets, headbands, and more. We found businesses that share our interests in supporting fair trade and brought these WHADA products back to be marketed here in Boulder. You can find these products at UmbaBoulder Art and Beyond, and Posh.  Check them out!

whadaView More:

Naren, K. and Melamed, S. (2014) Divorce System Gives Many Women Few Options.  The Cambodia Daily.

Seiyon (2013) The Changing Role of Women in Cambodian Society. Retrieved from

Wight, E. (2014) Rural Women Encouraged to Boost Online Presence. The Phnom Penh Post.

Rites of Passage: Meeting our Guides and Demons

By Michelle Bosco

It’s been two weeks since our NCAS-I team returned from Cambodia. Upon my return, I was flooded with questions such as, “How was it?” “Are you still jetlagged?” “What was your favorite part?” Although I appreciated my loved ones’ interest, I was overwhelmed by the vagueness and overly general questions and it felt difficult to answer them. I noticed my hesitation and resistance to offering any details. I’m not exactly sure why; maybe I wasn’t ready yet, or maybe it felt easier to put my experience in a little box that I could revisit later.

However, my choice to withhold information didn’t last too long. I began to share little pieces of my experience here and there. I realized this isn’t just something I can store away. It’s something that needs to be shared, needs to be heard, and needs to continue to live and be passed along. It’s clear this project has depth, passion, and heart and it’s filled with of a ton of stories. Stories filled with beauty, stories filled with fear and hurt, and even some stories filled with a little bit of magic.

Each member of NCAS-I has their own unique experience and I feel so fortunate to be able to share with you not only my story, but theirs as well. Although I’m sure I could ramble on and on (If you know me well, then you definitely know this to be true) and give you a very detailed report of our experience from each day, I feel it’s best for you to hear about it through the different rites of passage we encountered. I also want to reveal stories about the guides we met and the demons we faced along the way.

Before I do so, I’ll briefly explain what rites of passage mean. Rites of passage are a category of rituals that mark the passage of a person through the life cycle, from one stage through another over time, and from one role or social position to another (Campbell, 1949). These rituals have taken place in all cultures over the world, integrating human and cultural experiences with biological destiny: birth, reproduction, and death. This concept was originally articulated by Arnold van Gennep. In 1907, he outlined a form inherent in all rites of passage: separation, transition, and incorporation (Gennep, 1960). Van Gennep stated that a person had to be separated from one role before he or she could be incorporated into a new one. The ceremonies and rituals allow people to move forward and let go of the pre-existing roles. They can also support people to embrace transitions with acceptance and gratitude.

One of NCAS-I’s first rites of passage ceremonies occurred on May 12th (2 days before we left for Cambodia). One of our supervisor’s, Katie, led a “letting go” ceremony. We were instructed to write down on a small scrap of paper, something we wanted to let go of, or something we wanted to leave rather than take to Cambodia. After we completed this part, we walked outside and began the actual ceremony. With snow still on the ground, we shivered as we huddled close together. Katie set her charcoal incense burner on a rock, and one by one we placed our tiny scraps of paper inside of the burner.

As we inhaled the smell of sandalwood and frankincense and watched the smoke rise, Megan read the poem, In Black Water Woods by Mary Oliver. The last line reads, “To live in this world you must be able to do three things; to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” These words struck me because I knew it was time to leave behind that which no longer served me, and embark on a journey filled with a realm of unknowns. As I watched my words burn and disintegrate, I felt fear creep up inside me.

I was afraid and resistant to leave my comfort for discomfort, yet I knew relief would come from making the choice to let go. This rite of passage was parallel to Van Gennep’s first stage, separation. This stage is characterized by separating from the existing awareness of all that is familiar and secure (Gennep, 1960). I assumed I would remain in this stage early on in our trip. Even though I was well-informed of our travel details and schedule, I knew the comfort and familiarity I had in the states would be stripped away as soon as I landed in Cambodia. Not only was I facing challenges in adjusting to a new environment, I was also grieving the losses from my old role that I recently let go of.

There were others that felt similarly; anchored in the separation stage, and preparing to explore fears and expectations brought on by this new change. It was difficult for some of us to adjust and arrive, and due to our vastly different histories, we had to cross the threshold and officially “arrive” in our own ways.

For Liz, she officially “arrived” in Cambodia when she decided to return to Angkor Wat all by herself. She was able to leave the group and travel solo because she faced fears that she still carried from nine years ago when she backpacked through India and Nepal alone. Liz said, “I had endured some pretty scary, unsafe, and ongoing situations on that trip related to being vulnerable, naive, female, and not in control of where I went and with whom. Setting out at dawn with my art supplies, a cell phone, and a tuk tuk driver was an affirmation that now, nine years later, I am possessed of far greater resources. I can trust my instincts of what feels safe and unsafe, and have the assertiveness and autonomy to be 100 percent responsible for where I go, and with whom. This sense of safety allowed me greater flexibility and openness to explore on my own terms.”


Artwork by Liz Maher

Liz’s example of arriving is part of Gennep’s transition stage. The transition stage is when the grip of the old period merges with the new period. (Gennep, 1960). Liz merged the two periods by facing her fears head on. She was also in full flight of the adventure and ready for what was to come next. There were other members of NCAS-I that had profound experiences in this stage.

For part of this Service-Learning Practicum, we studied Cambodian culture and spent a great deal of time learning about the Khmer Rouge. We also attended a circus performance in Battambang, Cambodia before visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 in Phnom Penh. The performance beautifully portrayed the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, and it also left an imprint on our team, knowing that the arts were allowing a way for the Cambodian people to tell their story and express themselves, and help combat trauma that so many of them faced. Emma was deeply moved and did her own response art around this subject. Her artwork depicts how the Cambodian culture handles tragedy and how they have the strength to carry on.


Artwork by Emma Ehrenthal

When I look at her painting, I see resiliency and hope. Perhaps it’s the color palette she used, or perhaps it reminds me of how I felt on that night. Either way, I know I felt completely different after attending the Killing Fields, S21, and while I was reading Arn Chorn Pond’s book, Never Fall Down. I felt defeated, depressed, and sick to my stomach.

I struggled as I tried to process my feelings around the Khmer Rouge, and I realized my discomfort wasn’t going to vanish just yet. I had to face my own demons during this transition stage. I was disoriented and felt out of control. I watched my doubts about my performance working with clients constantly pop up like some sort of annoying snooze button that never turned off. I even questioned how I was showing up in our NCAS-I group and I repeatedly wondered if what I was offering was enough. On top of this, I felt guilty for having these concerns, especially when I was reminded about what the people of the Khmer Rouge had to endure. My problems seemed trivial and I tried to conceal them.

With some time and space, I gained clarity and understood what this highly uncomfortable place was. It was my way of being in the transition stage. When I finally realized this, I no longer brushed away my feelings and made them seem small or unimportant. I also had the support of a few amazing women who served as my guides. They allowed me to recognize my innate power and reclaim what I forgotten; to trust myself. I will be forever grateful for their patience, guidance, and love.


Artwork by Michelle Bosco

I moved forward and continued consuming, ingesting, absorbing, all around me, and when it was time, purged and released what I needed to. I realized the doubts I once had about myself were merely a result of trying to meet everyone’s expectations (an impossible task by the way), so I freed myself and made a decision to take in only what I wanted and needed to.

This realization brought relief and left me feeling liberated and excited about the possibilities of growth that a new beginning holds. Gennep describes this as the incorporation stage (Gennep, 1960). In this stage, people emerge from the pain and struggle and see that the wait was well worth it. I felt as though I resurrected my creative and powerful energy and as though I had so much more to offer others. Each member of NCAS-I gained something different. For example, Krystel gained the gift companionship. She viewed each close relationship as an opportunity for growth and vowed to bring this gift back home, especially to her fiancé, Andrew, who she will marry in less than two months. Others gained clarity, wisdom, confidence, hope, the list goes on! To mark this transition, each member of the group made their own necklaces to symbolize self-recognition and deep understanding.


Artwork by Michelle Bosco

Our last night in Cambodia ended with magic. (Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to forget about it) We took a boat ride down the river and stopped as soon as we saw a tree that appeared to have white Christmas lights on it. As we moved closer we were amazed and delighted to find that it was fireflies. It was pure magic, like nothing I’ve ever seen before! My gaze was locked on the tree until I realized it was time for one last ritual before returning home. Each of us were given candles and one by one we placed them in little boats made from leaves and released them in the water. As I watched each one float away, some burning out, and some still flickering, I was reminded of another gift I gained. Joseph Campbell describes these gifts as boons, or jewels that one carries after a voyage. (Campbell, 1949) One of my great boons is my awareness; there can be no light without entering the darkness, and with each descent into darkness, the light shines ever more brightly. I know the next transition may pull me into the darkness, but this time I will be able to navigate the journey more gracefully. I can trust that I am exactly where I need to be.


Artwork by Sue Wallingford

Author/artist note: Please do not use the images without permission. Thank you.


Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Foundation (1st edition).

Gennep, A. v. (1960). The rites of passage. Chicago: University of Chicago.


Arn Chorn Pond and Cambodian Living Arts

by Krystel Chamberlain

After visiting the solemn and heart-breaking sites of the Killing Fields and S-21 prison while in Phnom Penh, we spent our last day there meeting a most charismatic and inspirational survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime. We went to Cambodian Living Arts which is a non-profit organization promoting the traditional arts of Cambodia. Arn Chorn Pond, who describes his complex past as a child soldier turned killer turned politician turned musician and spokesperson, shared with us how music saved his life. Arn was separated from his family at the age of eleven and forced into labor by the Khmer Rouge. One day he raised his hand when asked if anyone could play an instrument. Most musicians, intellectuals, doctors, and teachers were killed when admitting to their skills. Arn was lucky. He survived execution and starvation only by pleasing Khmer Rouge officers by playing propaganda music. He was the quickest learner. The slower children were killed. He learned techniques from a master musician before the old man was killed. Music saved his life. He played propaganda music until he was forced to be a child soldier and eventually escaped to Thailand at the end of the war. He was adopted by an American family and was sent to the United States where he attended school. The book “Never Fall Down” tells his story during the war. Please see my blog post from April 2014 for more detail on this, and Megan’s previous post about the Killing Fields.

In 1998, Arn returned to Cambodia in search of any surviving master musicians who could teach the traditional music and performing arts to the younger generation. It was not easy. Out of the two million people the Khmer Rouge exterminated, 90% were educated artists, musicians, doctors, etc. Arn founded Cambodian Living Arts to provide an avenue for traditional Khmer arts to live on. Old Masters are supported and earn a living by teaching their art forms to impoverished students who then can earn a living by performing rather than turning to the streets.  Students are even given a scholarship to attend college in whatever they would like to study such as computers, medicine, or education. Either way, the arts will be an important force in their lives.


Cambodian Living Arts also creates an opportunity for the world to witness these art forms. They put on performances and festivals and allow the public to tour their studio and observe a class in action. That’s what we did. We were welcomed into the studio by Taro (promoter, and also a guitar player in his free time) and met a class made up of one female teacher, two female students, one male student, and two male musicians. Taro translated for us and explained that they were practicing Yike Opera which is a traditional Khmer performance with dance, singing, Khmer violin, and drum. It is not known exactly when and where Yike originated but is guessed to be influenced by the many different people who occupied Cambodia over the ages. Arn soon joined us in the classroom. It was clear he had a lot of pride about his students. The actors shared with us their usual practice which involved flexibility stretches, dancing, and singing while musicians played the drum and Khmer violin. In Yike Opera, all actors must be able to sing, dance, and act. They performed a short song from the Opera they were practicing and it was so beautiful! My heart swelled and I could not stop smiling. I had hoped to see a performance while on this trip and here it was! Such delicate and graceful movements! These students were very talented. They demonstrated several of the intricate hand gestures and we gasped at how their fingers could curl backward. That explains all the stretching! There are over 2,500 different gestures, each one with a unique meaning. We witnessed hand gestures that symbolized “to plant”, “grow”, “flower”, “fruit”, and “ripen” to name a few. More involved gestures stood for “shy”, “angry”, and “to love someone”.

Just when I thought this couldn’t get any more interesting, we were invited to try some! The Master teacher and her students tried to help us force our joints into directions they just wouldn’t go! Amidst laughter and groans we gained even more respect for what these performers could do. We were then invited to learn some dance moves (which came easier or harder to some of us compared to the stretching)!

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Afterwards, we all sat down for a snack and to talk with Arn. We asked him why he started the Cambodian Living Arts Center. He shared how music saved his life over and over again when playing the flute allowed him to cope with memories and flashbacks from his traumatic past. He said that witnessing the beautiful music played by his students and the Masters he has found has brought him to tears. Tears that had so desperately needed to be shed, but could not as a child because to cry would mean death. As art therapy students, we could understand how powerful and therapeutic it is to show emotion through art, music, dance, etc.

Arn reminded us that we are all connected, even when we return to the United States. “We are all the same. We laugh the same. We cry the same”. We affect each other. The U.S. affected Cambodia when they dropped bombs there in the 1960’s. As an American and Cambodian, Arn feels deeply conflicted about this. Artists must be a strong voice in the world to communicate human emotion. Then maybe we can all remember this connection. Then maybe we can help to stop bombings, killings, and mass genocides.


I want to thank Arn Chorn Pond and his class at Cambodian Living Arts for sharing such a special afternoon with us.  It was truly a hi-light of the trip for me and I will forever remember this example of resiliency and devotion to the arts and human expression.



Walking the Killing Fields: Life, Death. Body, Earth.

 By Megan Nemire

It took almost three weeks on this trip to Cambodia, but I became sick. Maybe I ate something questionable, or assumed safety in a glass of ice tainted with bacteria my Western body system cannot process. However it happened, I was incapacitated for a day, traveling only to the restroom and bed, as well as the recesses of my fearful feelings I hadn’t acknowledged previously.

Though it was clearly a physical reaction, my body’s natural response fighting something foreign or dangerous, I became quite curious about the relevance of this timely… (how do I say it politely…) purging of the system.

I had taken in a lot over the past three weeks. We all had. Our clients and many strangers we passed on the streets had experienced the depths of human experience. Trauma. Domestic abuse. Sexual exploitation. Aftermath of genocide and political upheaval. So which of the many hardships was too much for me to digest?

Oh yes. I had finished reading Never Fall Down (2012) the day before the sharp pains seized my stomach. In this book, McCormick tells the story of Arn Chorn Pond‘s life*, a haunting journey through the terrors of the extremist group, the Khmer Rouge, led in shadow by Pol Pot. The following provides historical context according to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (2004) and McCormick et al. Writing this section helped me address my deep need to make a shred of sense about something truly incomprehensible. Liking clarity for myself, at first I wondered if this was the coping strategy of intellectualization, using thought to override anxiety of emotion (Vaillant, 1977). However, no. I am attempting to align the cognitive with the emotional. I want to understand at least a sense of why these atrocities took place. I wanted to know the Khmer Rouge’s goals when waging this genocide. This historical piece is a practice of acceptance. It also provides essential context for the personal sharing afterward, about my experience walking through the Killing Fields.

The Khmer Rouge Genocide

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge, a group of peasants throughout the country of Cambodia, intentionally selected for their status as “base people” or working class, seized all of the major cities and marched the people out. Led by Pol Pot who mostly hid safely in Thailand, the Khmer Rouge was created as a group of former teachers, many influenced by the French Communist party. They were people who were themselves educated, and with social privilege.

Under the guise of evacuating homes to escape attacks from the Americans or Vietnamese, and with threat of immediate death by gunshot or bayonet slashing from these black-cloaked Khmer Rouge soldiers, the people of the cities gathered their essential belongings and marched out into the countryside. There were hundreds of thousands of people in the crowds, many starving and dying along the way, every step forward was given the promise of care from Angka, a new word to them at the time, which means, the organization.

Those that were forced to march were the educated people, those with land or wealth, they were the artists, musicians, teachers, doctors, anyone with special training. I began to consider the psychology of cutting off shadow parts—educated people leading the uneducated to kill the educated. Deep breath, and I continue my descent into history. The Khmer Rouge was guided by “four interrelated principles: (1) total independence and self-reliance, (2) preservation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) total and immediate economic revolution, and (4) complete transformation of Khmer social values.” (Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, 2004). They set out to “rusticate the cities”, to return Cambodia to a completely agrarian society, to strip away the classes and restore ‘equality’ to the people. They prohibited money, the free market, religion, education, and anything that contested their mission. Schools, churches, temples, and hospitals were shut down, and changed into prisons, granaries, and “reeducation camps”.

My stomach surges as I type, because the truth of the history fades to darkness. The people were forced into labor of growing rice on overworked soil, tasked with impossible yield goals. Many died as they worked. Many were killed mercilessly, accused of being traitors, pit against their family members and forced between condemning themself or their brother to death. Some went to the prisons, where they were tortured. Those that survived were sent to the killing fields, where they were murdered, and buried in mass graves. Families were separated into work camps for men, women, and children. Growing rice all day and night, many died from exhaustion, starvation, disease, and broken hearts. The Khmer Rouge continually restricted their criteria to let a person live, and many of the soldiers ordered to murder others were then killed themselves, declared as traitors.

It is estimated that 2 to 3 million people were murdered during the Khmer Rouge regime, approximately 30% of the Khmer population. They were murdered by their own people.


It is important– actually, essential– to acknowledge, to discuss, to let the heart break even if for a moment when reading these truths. Choeung Ek’s mission of education and sharing what happened is held in hopes that if we talk about these horrors, we can prevent them from repeating. Or at least we can try. Perhaps, dear reader, you might take a moment of silence in honor the souls whose lives were taken during this time.


 “A little life amongst the death” 

Response art, Megan Nemire

I have yet to find a way to honor and submit to the horror of these truths. And it seems, this lack of ability to cope with genocide and murder is quite a natural response. For me, reading a personal account of one man’s survival in a terrifying time built up in my gut like a strain of mutated human genetics. It was too much for my system to handle. So I vomited it up, let it all pour out. My body was rebelling against the truth.

Yet, after that day of somatic release, my system regulated enough for me to stand up again. My stomach restored a working balance, while still carrying a dull pain, and the moments of relief extended. My own was a parallel process of what I had read, only I was given the time and space to heal. The children I read about, children that Arn Chorn Pond knew during his own life, would have been taken for their ‘rest’ by death in a pile of bodies in a mango grove. This realization was horrifying and humbling. Since I get to live, I have the responsibility to share their story.

Visiting Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

Carrying a coconut for hydration and a stash of Cipro and bread, I walked the next day through the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, just outside of the large, busy city of Phnom Penh. This was one of at least 300 killing fields across the country, and is now an area of remembrance, education, and honoring.

The van ride there was stirring to me, realizing the close proximity of this field of death, barely outside a city that is once again sprawling. At that time, it was a ghost town, completely evacuated.


Photo by Megan Nemire

Though I am a person who feels very deeply all across the emotional spectrum, and ordinarily expresses herself with conviction and passion, this morning I found myself silent. I heard Arn’s words, you feel, you die. You cry only in your mind. This is how he survived.

So I walked the sites, which without marking might appear as any ordinary field, with clusters of trees, a small lake, and small mounds of dirt that stir the ground. I stood in silence at the mass graves. Bowed in reverence at the piles of bones and torn cloth. Listened to the audio player given from the staff that shares personal stories of struggle from survivors. All along I heard the words, and the feelings made themselves known, but they were trapped somewhere within myself.


Photo by Megan Nemire

At the end of walking my lap around the lake, I approached a tree covered in bracelets of all colors, hanging from the bark. The sign read both in Khmer and English, “Killing tree against which executioners beat children”. Deep sigh and my stomach drops yet again. This tree had been used as a death machine for women and children, its own sturdy nature twisted into a weapon cheaper than bullets. They were smashed into its trunk, head first.

I stood close to this tree, oscillating my attention between inward and outward focus. I was sensing what was there. There was my own profound sadness, still trapped behind a wall; there was my disbelief, fear, horror, relentless questioning, and futile need to make sense of this atrocity. However, I didn’t sense that trapped feeling outside of myself. It occurred to me that perhaps, in this place of reverence where bones and clothing are moved to a stupa, and honored in a Khmer death ritual, that the spirits of those who died here have left this land.

Standing close to the trunk of the tree, the bark that stayed firm against broken skulls, I looked up. There were leaves. This tree, sentenced as the tool for taking hundreds of innocent lives, was still growing itself.

I had a moment of outrage, on behalf of the tree, for being transformed into a killer. I quickly found my outrage to be misplaced. My outrage was for the people, for the thousands that died at Choeung Ek, the two or three million people killed in the Khmer Rouge genocide, for the young Khmer men and women used as disposable soldiers, made to execute their own people through brainwashing, lies, and threats of their own death.

The outrage led to sadness, the sadness to hopelessness. Hopelessness to a series of deep breaths. There is horror in the world, and I am still here, standing. There can be death and life within the same being. A tree can murder and grow. A country can destroy itself, and its people can still heal. A person like me can witness, fall apart, break down, and keep walking, keep writing, keep feeling, keep honoring.


Photo by Megan Nemire


One man I met here implored me, “Thank you for visiting my home. When you go back to yours, tell people about us. Tell people about Cambodia.” For today, I have told you about these deaths. And soon, I will tell you about the life.



Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings. So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs. And please feel free to add your perspective too.


Author/artist note: Please do not use the images without permission. Thank you.

*Stay tuned for a blog post from Krystel in a couple days, sharing more about Arn Chorn Pond’s life, and our experience meeting him.



McCormick, P. (2012). Never fall down. New York: Harper Collins.

Unknown author. (2004). The Killing Fields Museum – Learn from Cambodia. Retrieved from:

Vaillant, George E. (1977). Adaptation to life. Boston: Little, Brown.




Reflection: Open Hearted Goodbye

By Aiya B. Staller

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”How do you fall in love with being alive? Be willing to glimpse the end of everything you hold dear.” ~Stephen Jenkins

Sitting in the far back of our travel van, held firmly in place by a large backpack against my body on one side and my bent knees curled towards my chest as to make room for the storage beneath my feet, I find a balance as my hips straddle the edges of two seats.  For this moment, it feels luxurious as I relax into the air-conditioned van ride and play a recording of singing humpback whales that I have on my ipod.   I have a little over five hours to process the experience at Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC).  I feel happy-sad as I let myself cry.  Endings are often emotional, sweet, and sad for me.  I saw this reflected in others’ tear-streaked faces during our final group.  I begin to dream as I think about the people I worked closely with at CWCC.

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Last Friday was our closing group at CWCC.  Our work with the residents and staff focused on art therapy within Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics and Trauma (Perry, 2006).  This approach can help the nervous system calm down, especially after trauma, and can allow people to more fully open to their own creative process with its innate capacity to heal.  It also allowed me to drop into the creative process with the group.  We laughed, played, cried, heard stories of struggle, and learned about each other through creating art together.  The simplest connections were often the ones that stood out the most to me: passing scissors to help a girl cut her shadow puppet just right,  laughing in surprise as a woman teases me because she knew English all along, gently taping the art on the walls of the building as I think of the person who created it, and sitting with a traumatized woman as she watched the group in silence.  The small moments flash through my thoughts as I sit in our ritual circle to share our ”Shining moments” with the group.  The framework of our relationship was clearly structured, and this will likely be the last time that I see these women and children, even if I am able to return.  I’ve long since forgotten about the heat and discomfort, as all that matters to me right now are the people I’m sitting with.  The tears flow on many of our faces as I listen to the staff, residents, and children, “I will always remember you . . . I want to see you again . . . thank you for coming here . . . don’t forget us . . . please tell people about us. . . I love you . . . you are our friends . . . thank you for bringing all of this art.”


It is time to leave.

I wake up from my dream-remembering to the reality that l am in the back of a van heading to Phnom Penh.  The whales have stopped singing on my ipod.  A recording from Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart, begins instead (1997).  She speaks about the practice of Tonglen and its relationship to Bodhicitta, or the “Awakened Heart.”  Tonglen is a practice of cultivating compassion through allowing space for feelings that arise in ourselves and others.  In simple terms, it involves breathing in the suffering of others, and breathing out relief, or good intentions, directed towards them.  It can also be used for ourselves to aid in staying close to our feelings and experiences, even if they are difficult.  It is a practice of not turning away and staying present with self, others, and reality.  This can allow us to sit with people in whatever emotional state they are in, as we recognize it as part of the whole experience of being alive.  It is also closely related to Bodhiccitta, and the “Awakened Heart” which is correlated with the experience of sweet sadness (Trungpa, 2007).

I cry as I recall the stories that I heard, remembering sitting with the women and children, and imagine what they are doing right now.  Even though our time was brief; it had depth.  I feel a tender ache in my chest when I think of them.  They have touched me and I will always remember this.

I wrote previously about the alchemical element of change that happens in therapeutic relationships.  Through creating art together and experiencing each other in a therapeutic context, which allowed safe connection, I was touched deeply.  As I saw their faces and heard their words, I could see that they were as well.

My heart hurts.

I wanted to leave with you a part of a translated poem from from ”Sokha”, which was a Cambodian performance art piece from a partner organization of CWCC’s called Phare Ponleu Selpak.  It speaks of grief and endings, reading as follows:

”Life is given to us, we earn it by giving it……do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness….beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. Keep peace in your soul. With all the shame, drudgery, and broken dreams, it [life] is still beautiful…” ~ Phare Ponleu Selpak, Social Justice Performing Arts Circus School & Theater


Chodron, P. (1997). When things fall apart: heart advice for difficult times. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Perry, B. (2006). Working with traumatized youth in child welfare. New York: The Guilford Press.

Trungpa, C. (2007). Shambhala: the sacred path of the warrior. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.