Former Refugee Turned Ambassador Speaks

April 26, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

DEVOTED SERVANTS: Chiling Tong, second from left, presented the President's Volunteer Service Award to (L-R), Jerry Lee, Shiao-Yen Wu, Mei-Jui Lin and Duc T. Tran.  (Courtesy of International Leadership Foundation)
DEVOTED SERVANTS: Chiling Tong, second from left, presented the President's Volunteer Service Award to (L-R), Jerry Lee, Shiao-Yen Wu, Mei-Jui Lin and Duc T. Tran. (Courtesy of International Leadership Foundation)
Seattle, Wash.—A survivor of Cambodia’s killing fields who escaped to the United States and created a distinguished career honored other Asian-American volunteers this week.

Ambassador Sichan Siv, a former ambassador to the U.N., and the author of “Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey from Hell in Cambodia to a New Life in America,” encouraged the many people in the room to believe in the American dream.

“This is not my story, it’s your story, it’s our story, it’s an American story, because all of us in this room, we are all children of refugees and immigrants,” said Siv.

As a young man he went from the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge to America with $2 to his name. He earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and only 13 years after his escape from Cambodia went on to become deputy assistant to the president at the White House under President George H. W. Bush, and then deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, before being appointed ambassador to the U.N. under the President George W. Bush, a post he held from 2001–2006.

In an event that drew more than 150 people on Sunday, April 24, the International Leadership Foundation (ILF) celebrated its role developing leaders in the Asian-Pacific American (APA) community and fostering the American dream, by formally recognizing its volunteers with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.

Founded 10 years ago, ILF promotes civic awareness, public service, and economic effectiveness within the APA community.

Xiao-Yen Wu, a respected leader in the Seattle’s APA community, hosted business and community leaders and government officials, including deputy mayor of city of Bellevue, Conrad Lee, and North Seattle Community College president, Mark Mitsui.

The ILF provides scholarships and leadership training to students of APA descent. It prides itself on its Washington, D. C., Civic Fellowship program designed to foster the new generation of APA leaders. Each fellow participates in a supervised training program. In the past two years two of the fellows have gone on to earn competitive spots as interns in the White House.

By mentoring and supporting young leaders the organization strives to foster greater civic engagement and increase representation of Asians in government, as well as other arenas like business and academia.

Before formally honoring the volunteers for their devotion to serving the community, with the President’s Volunteer Service Award, signed by President Obama, Chief Executive Officer of the ILF Chiling Tong, emphasized a theme heard throughout the evening—it is not enough for Asians to be involved in the community and government, but current leaders must “teach the next generation to get involved.”