Cambodia Town leaders gathered Sunday morning to ceremoniously break ground on a long-awaited community garden meant to honor the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

The idea of remember the Khmer people killed during Pol Pot’s regime over four decades ago began in 2005. Designs were revealed in 2016 during the commemoration of the project’s organizers, the Killing Fields Memorial Center Inc. in cooperation with the Cambodian Veterans Inc. and 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews’ office.

Now that construction permits have been secured, organizers expect to break ground on the Killing Fields Memorial Garden immediately and estimate completing the project sometime in 2021, though an exact date was not given.

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A previous rendering of the Killing Fields Memorial Garden slated to be opened at 1501 E. Anaheim St. in 2021.

“This is just not for Cambodians, this will be for everyone because we all have had some form of tragedy in our families,” Andrews said during the groundbreaking.

KFMC secretary and board member Paline Soth echoed Andrews’ sentiment.

“We believe that all of us here together in this place will be a memorial reminder of the plight of the Armenians, the Jewish Holocaust and the Romanians,” Soth said, referring to genocides endured by each ethnic group.

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Organizers thanked Andrews for his early support, including $150,000 in city council funds, for the project.

“We want to take this opportunity to say we’ve been blessed with Dee Andrews being a big benefactor for us,” said Soth. “He believes genuinely in our struggle and the idea that we have to remember.”

While the project is estimated to cost about $750,000, Soth said donations by Andrews and other community members have dropped the estimated price tag down to about $400,000.

Donations are still being accepted, Soth said. The board is also offering a “gold member” option where those who donate $500 will get their names placed on a plaque.

The future site of the Killing Fields Memorial Garden in Cambodia Town. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

Additionally, Cambodian volunteers like architect Chan Ung and designer Ritchy Chin have saved organizers on costs.

Ung, who was born in the Killing Fields right before it ended, said such a space would be only the second known memorial site for the victims of the Khmer Rouge in America. The other is in Chicago.

Ung said he hopes the garden can be a space for healing past trauma “because Cambodians tend to keep it to themselves.”

The memorial garden will include a stage, water fountain and a stupa, a monument-type structure that typically includes the ashes of the deceased. The names of the Killing Fields victims will also be added.

The Killing Fields Memorial Garden will be located in what is currently a vacant lot across the street from the Mark Twain Neighborhood Library at 1501 E. Anaheim St.

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.