Client Stories
Keo's Story
by Mona Afary - Clinical Director

Keo's painting in support group - Sept. 2007
Keo is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Her husband ‎was dragged out of their hut and murdered in front of her eyes. ‎Afterwards, his body was hung with a sign hanging behind his back, which ‎said “War Slave”.‎

Keno fled to Thailand in 1979. After 5 years, she was sent to the Philippines ‎where she along with refugees from other parts of the world studied English ‎prior to coming to the U.S. on asylum visas. It was here that she met her ‎second husband, a Vietnamese man with a history of torture during the 11 ‎years of his political imprisonment. ‎

Keo and her husband were resettled in East Oakland. Not having any ‎language skills, education or any job expertise, they were delighted to finally ‎get a job, delivering The San Francisco Examiner. Her husband’s massive heart attack ‎paralyzed him and made him homebound. She continued the newspaper ‎delivery for another ten years but had to quit because of passing out as the ‎side effect of the Insulin shots that she was taking for her diabetes. She ‎was now living on disability. ‎

When Keo came to CERI to get help for her citizenship application, she was ‎asked about her psychological condition. She talked about her insomnia, ‎flashbacks and nightmares of the Khmer Rouge years, along with depression ‎and panic attacks. She had no friends and her only social activity was going ‎to the Cambodian store and conversing with people while doing grocery ‎shopping. She embraced the idea of attending a weekly group where other ‎Cambodian women, all survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide would meet ‎regularly. She, like almost all the other clients at CERI had ‎never had the opportunity to talk about her psychological symptoms.‎ Cambodians would not ask such question from one another and non-‎Cambodian physicians who treated her diabetes either did not have an ‎interpreter with her in the session or were not able to ask about her ‎psychological symptoms. ‎ Keo was referred to our office to help her with her citizenship status; but ‎like almost all of the other clients at CERI, she began to receive treatment ‎for her emotional and psychological symptoms. With the help of our ‎psychiatrist and homeopathic clinician, her nightmares were reduced from ‎almost every night to twice a week and flashbacks occurred much less ‎frequently. For the first time after more than 20 years she is able to ‎experience deep sleep at night. When she told her story to the group and ‎felt their deep sorrow and empathy, she felt relieved. “It was as if the ‎ghosts had finally left me and I feel at peace.” ‎

Today, she came to her individual therapy session with a request from her ‎husband. ‎"He is skin and bones and in and out of the hospital all the time. He wanted ‎you to know that he and I have saved enough money for his cremation, but ‎because we don’t have family and neither of us knows anything about the ‎system, he wants to know if CERI could help me with arranging his cremation ‎ceremony upon his death."

Chanda, the bi-lingual Cambodian interpreter, and ‎I looked at one another. I paused because of not knowing anything about the ‎Cambodian death ceremonies and rituals. Without verbally communicating ‎that with Chenda, she read my mind and said, “Yes, we would take care of ‎it.” And I nodded. ‎ Tear rolled down her eyes. “We both know that he is going to be gone soon, ‎so I cook him a delicious meal every day. He is not able to eat much and has ‎a bite or two, but I enjoy looking at his face when the food is set in front of ‎him. Today is going to be one of the happiest days of his life. He knows ‎that he will be cremated respectfully and that his wife will not be left alone ‎with all the women friends that she has made at CERI. So, I am going to ‎Chinatown to buy him Roast Duck for dinner. ‎