A Look Back at Our Cambodian Refugee Family

Presently our church, as a member of the Refugee Resettlement Coalition of Lane County, is supporting the hosting of a Syrian refugee family.  Now, let’s roll our time clock back to the 1970’s: the Vietnam War and consequent refugees from both Vietnam and Cambodia. According to the October 1975 vestry meeting records our Rector, Fr. Alvord, approached our vestry with the idea of the possibility of sponsoring a Cambodian family. Fr. Alvord did an informal survey, to see if our parish was receptive to such an idea, since, if our parish decided to fully sponsor a family, it will be quite a responsibility, monthly expense, board and room. By the December 1975 vestry meeting we had 102 contributions. Consequently, the vestry decided that our parish would take on the responsibility to sponsor a Cambodian family.

Those days the wheels turned much faster. By the end of December 1975 Fr. Alvord reported that a family was located, a father with three sons, and they were scheduled to arrive January 11, 1976. That did not give us too much time to get everything ready. The whole parish got in motion. The King and Cowan families lead the way.  Sure enough Mr. Pou with his three sons arrived in Eugene right on schedule. The Pou family moved in 3653 West 18th Ave,  Apt.#2. The boys were: Sovachana (19) Sothirak (18) Sovedak (17).

The Pou family was adopted by our parish and they adopted us.  They were members of our church, not just in word, but action, too. It was pleasing to see that every Sunday, at the 10 o’clock service, the Pou family was seated in the first row and with the rest of us, received Holy Communion.

In May 1976 in cooperation with other churches in Eugene area, we organized a Cambodian New Year celebration. Later months in the Berktold Hall the local Cambodian families arranged for an authentic Cambodian wedding for Sovedak and his bride and the Pou family invited the whole parish. (The food was out of this world!)

While in Eugene the boys, since they spoke reasonable good English, started schooling: high school – LCC – OSU. By the beginning of 1980’s they were all independent. Mr. Pou volunteered for the Secretariat General of the Cambodian Nationalist Office.  After attending LCC, Sovachana got into restaurant management and soon was managing a Sambo restaurant in Portland and later in Eugene, too. Sothirak graduated as an Electrical Engineer from OSU. Sovedak worked as Sovachana’s assistant. Sovachana and Sothirak now live in Cambodia.

1982 one of Mr. Pou’s sons, Sovitj, came to Eugene to get his PhD in organic chemistry at University of Oregon and lived with us. Presently Sovitj lives in Portland.  Later on Mr. Pou became a Buddhist monk.  Mr. Pou had the training, since in the old days it was the custom in Cambodia that the oldest son in the family had to have training in Buddhism and be a monk for a time. He also studied meditation under S. N. Goenka and when the regime changed in Cambodia he went back and started a school in meditation. Mr. Pou spent his last years in Phnom Penh teaching meditation and living in a pagoda. Mr. Pou died, by natural causes, December 2016, in his pagoda with all his family around him. At this time I would like to convey their heartfelt thanks to the whole parish. My family also gives thanks to our parish for giving us the chance to let us know the Pou family.

-Submitted by Sandor Nagygyor