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For Cambodians, trek's end is just a start

As his little boys wage a pillow fight on the living room floor, Dan Rossaly watches quietly from the couch, at the end of a long week. He and his two young sons are only guests here, but this temporary home is a start for Mr. Dan, who is just beginning to make the United States his new home.

Dan is one of 16 Cambodian refugees who reached the US last month after a 17-month escape from a refugee camp in Thailand. The escape carried three families across four countries and required them to swim for seven hours in ocean waters at night. (The story of this journey appeared in the Monitor on Sept. 16.)

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After just a week here, Dan's work ethic already is evident.

Staying here at the home of the Rev. Peter Pond, a Congregational minister long active in the plight of Cambodian refugees, Dan enrolled his children in school and found work the morning after they arrived.

Mr. Pond explains proudly, ``The first day Rossaly was here he went to work. This week he helped paint a house and earned $200.''

With both boys in school - five-year-old Chan goes to kindergarten and adopted two-year-old Suon Kressna is in day care - Dan now begins work as an apprentice electrician in nearby Bethlehem. One year of apprenticing will give him the necessary credentials to work in the US.

``One of the problems with Americans,'' Pond says, ``is that they think all refugees are coming [to the US] to go on welfare. But this is an example of a person who could be eligible for welfare, but who chooses to work and pay $75 a week for his children to go to day care and kindergarten.''

Pond admits that achieving financial independence may be harder for the two families Dan escaped with, both of which are now staying in homes in Providence, R.I. Social-service agencies in cities take more time with necessary paperwork, he says, and jobs are not as easy to find.

But he's sure Dan will be successful: ``He's a terrific worker with a tremendous amount of discipline.''

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Dan lost two wives and a baby daughter to violence in Cambodia before he fled in 1985.

Pond and his wife Shirley have 11 children of their own, nine of whom are orphaned Cambodian refugees.

Most recently adopted is son Dara, who remembers Dan from the Bangkok jail where they were both detained in 1985. Now a high school student planning to attend a leading prep school next fall, Dara wears a warm up suit on this brisk New Hampshire morning and excuses himself to leave for a track meet.

Dara's progress in adapting to America during the two years he's been here - after an impressive struggle of his own to leave Thailand - suggests the level of achievement that Dan may reach in the US if he continues such hard work.

Peter Pond is certain of it. ``He'll be a millionaire before you or I.''

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