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Beyond survival: A study of factors influencing psychological resilience among Cambodian child survivors

Urakorn Khajornwit Fuderich, University of Massachusetts Amherst


War is a one of the major causes of child mortality and morbidity worldwide. Research evidence suggests that exposure to war trauma increases a child's risk of developing psychological problems, both short and long term. However, studies of resilience have shown that some children have a remarkable ability to survive trauma with little or no damage to their psyche. This dissertation is a study of individuals who have survived childhood war trauma and managed to rise above the odds to function well in major areas of life. The study was designed to explore factors contributing to their ability to remain resilient in the face of adversity. Using in-depth phenomenological interviewing, ten Cambodian child survivors were interviewed. All of the participants were separated from their families in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over and suffered extraordinarily difficult ordeals during their internment in the labor camps. Some managed to reunite with their families in 1979 after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia before fleeing to the refugee camps in Thailand. Others lost all of their family members and came to the US as accompanied minors. Findings emerging from this study reveal that family cohesion, positive childhood memories, supportive recovery environment, stubborn determination to overcome obstacles, and Buddhist values are important factors that work together to produce resiliency. All of the participants were raised by empathic parents and learned to become self-reliant at an early age. The affection and warmth which marked those early years were the most important in sustaining them during difficult times in their lives. The Buddhist values of accepting suffering as their fate allowed them to form greater tolerance of the hardships and enabled them to face adversity with optimism and confidence. As survivors, they are proud and determined to make the most of "the second chance" granted to them. In the resettlement phase, they were able to heal their wounds quickly by letting bygones be bygones and optimistically moving toward the future. The safe and supportive recovery environment combined with an easy access to different resources made it possible for them to quickly put their shattered lives back together.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling|Psychotherapy|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Fuderich, Urakorn Khajornwit, "Beyond survival: A study of factors influencing psychological resilience among Cambodian child survivors" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3289271.