Le Xuan Hy, professor of psychology, was visiting Jesuit Refugee Service in Cambodia a few years ago when he was led to a room where a paraplegic man was quietly assembling wheelchairs. It took Hy a while to realize just who the man was. “He started referring to his conversation with ‘Clinton,’” as in the former U.S. president, Hy remembers. This unassuming man, Hy would come to realize, was Tun Channareth, a leader in the international effort to ban landmines and cluster bombs, and the person chosen to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1997.
After returning from his trip, Hy recounted the experience to his colleagues, Quan Le, associate professor of economics, and Peter Raven, Eva Albers Professor. The two Albers faculty would later lead a group of students on a service-learning trip to Cambodia. They came away inspired by the man, and nominated him for an honorary doctorate.
Channareth will receive that degree at Seattle University’s graduate commencement ceremony on June 12. He arrived in Seattle last week where a full schedule of events and speaking engagements awaited him.
Speaking before a packed International Student Center lounge on Tuesday, Channareth pointed out that the United States remains one of the few countries in the world to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, and called on the campus community to sign a petition opposing landmines and cluster bombs. “We want to reveal a new hope for people who suffer by war, by dirty war,” he said. “Today, we want to clean the world.”
(Tuesday’s gathering was co-sponsored by Office of Catholic Faith Formation of the Archdiocese of Seattle; the School of Theology and Ministry; the Faith and the Great Ideas program; the Vietnamese Student Association; the Catholic Studies Program; Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology; and the International Student Center.)
Channareth knows the ravages of war all too well. Growing up in Cambodia, many of his family members were killed by the Khmer Rouge. He joined the resistance army, and one day, as he was walking near the Thai-Cambodia border, a landmine exploded and he lost both of your legs. For a while, he contemplated suicide, but then he turned to Jesuit Refugee Service in Cambodia, where he learned new vocational skills. He would eventually put those skills to work, building wheelchairs for other victims of landmines.
In announcing Channareth’s selection for an honorary doctorate, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., praised his efforts. “Mr. Channareth has reached out with compassion in service to other landmine victims while working tirelessly to rid the world of these insidious weapons,” President Sundborg said.
It was estimated by the United Nations 15,000-20,000 people were maimed or killed by landmines in 2006, and 20 percent of the victims were children.