Video: Cambodian Buddhist Monks find religious sanctuary in Philadelphia

Danh Tol is a Cambodian Buddhist monk from Vietnam living and practicing out of the Soryarangsky (“rising sun”) Buddhist temple in the Olney section of Philadelphia. He practices Theravada Buddhism, the most popular religion in Cambodia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, and has been a monk since 1996. Theravada Buddhism in its present state could not exist without the relationship between the monks and lay followers, who provide food, medicine, cloth for robes, and other necessities.

Roughly 96 percent of the people in Cambodia identify as Theravada Buddhists. But when the southern part of their country, Kampuchea Krom, was given to Vietnam in 1949 by the French government, its inhabitants were forced to conform to Vietnamese culture, language, and religion. Theravada Buddhists and their monks were forbidden from practicing their religion, discriminated against, and denied jobs, education, and opportunities because of their heritage. Danh is one of those monks. His heritage goes back to the Krom land and people, meaning his family has been forced to assimilate to a culture hostile toward them on land they once thought of as home.

He spoke out for the rights of his people and culture in Vietnam despite the known consequences. Eighteen days after his protests, he was arrested and thrown in jail for four years, where he was tortured, incarcerated naked and in the dark for six months, beaten, and interrogated.

Once released, he fled the country and has continued working to make changes for his people back home.

To learn more about Danh Tol’s story, visit this link to watch his statement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the state of human rights in his home country of Vietnam.