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"Escape from Cambodia: Living the American Dream"
Kuon shares his fascinating story about his "Escape from Cambodia," to a refugee camp in Thailand, to now living the American Dream. From escaping daily bombings in Cambodia to selling hand-made checkered hacky sacks as a young boy in America, he now runs a successful publishing company and inspires students and adults all across the country with his story.








"The ART of Success for the College Student"

Success is what every college student most desires. Success in grades, in their future career, their relationships and in life. Using ART, humor, and student interaction, he will share his success secrets in a fun, interactive, & unique way college students will truly relate with and enjoy.

"The Power of Words"
As an author, words are crucial. As a speaker, words inspire. As a leader, words change to world! Hear how to use words to make the most impact in interviews, job searches, sales calls, and even relationships. Using the right words, in the right ways WILL determine the success of every stage of our lives.

KEYNOTE SPEECHES

Artist inspired by frugal childhood, creative family
By Rebecca Rose
Harker Heights Herald
July 14, 2011

"Yee-haw! It twisted and bucked, flinging Mikey around, and with one final bolt, threw him straight to the ground!"


On Wednesday morning, at the Harker Heights Library, rows of children sat silently listening to the tale of "Mikey and Monster Vacuum." They were captivated by the animated speaker.

The speaker was Vuthy Kuon, a children's book author and illustrator. Kuon has illustrated numerous children's books, ranging from "Humpty Dumpty After the Fall," to the adventures of "Mikey and the Monster Vacuum," the story he read Wednesday.

Kuon's own story begins thousands of miles across the sea in Cambodia. Born in Phnom Penh to Chinese parents, the artist's early memories are of a war-torn country and the refugee camps his family called home.

In the mid-1970s, Cambodia saw the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Under Pol Pot's reign, the Khmer Rouge killed more than 2 million people from 1975 to 1979 — four long years marked by torture and genocide. Civil rights were abolished, schools were closed and children were removed from their homes and placed into work camps.

Millions were murdered by Khmer Rouge soldiers, starved to death or died working in forced labor camps. The devastation wrought by the Khmer Rouge stands as one of the worst genocides in global history.

In 1975, when Pol Pot's forces numbered almost a million, Kuon's family fled their homeland, escaping to a refugee camp in Thailand.

"We were very poor," Kuon said. "We couldn't afford toys, books or food for that matter."

A life in poverty inspired everyone in his family to become more creative, he said.

"My mother had all these different ways of trying to make money and save money," he said. "She knew the war was coming, so she started saving soap. Detergent became valuable after the war began.

"I had to invent games and other ways to keep myself entertained," Kuon said his siblings would make toys out of things they found in the camps, including rubber bands, chopsticks and Styrofoam cups.

"My brothers would get rubber bands, make them into toys, jump ropes, shoot at things, rubber balls."

The family eventually moved to the United States, relocating to Houston, where Kuon grew up.

Kuon traced the first signs of his talent back to an early memory of a drawing he did of his family that his mother kept in a photo album.

"I had a neighbor who gave me a box of different sizes of card stock. I would take them and draw cartoons.

"I used to make my own books," he said. "We couldn't really afford to buy them, so I would just make them. I had my own little library of tiny shelves of books, all alphabetized. Those were valuable to me."

Kuon said he got his artistic ability from his father, who loved to oil paint, but his mother's do-it-yourself savvy influenced his entrepreneurial side.

He started drawing his own comic books, featuring a mohawked dog named "Max," inspired by Mr. T, a star on the 1980s hit television show "The A-Team."

"My friends liked them so much, they would buy them from me," he said. "I made my own lunch money that way."

Dabbling in arts and crafts to make money eventually led the teenager to a spot at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, one of the country's top art schools.

Today, his work reflects a style that is both whimsical and gritty — bright, bold colors touched with a graffiti-edged sense of realness that children and older readers can relate to.

"Most of my inspiration comes from comic books," he said. "I loved books with pictures, like comic books, because with English as my second language, reading comprehension was not my strong suit.

"As I matured as an artist, the braver I got, the more willing I was to do what I really love. The older I got, the younger my work looked."

Kuon said it's crucial to keep arts in public schools at a time when funding is being slashed.

"What I see in public schools, everything is so focused on memorization, tricks or gimmicks, designed to get the highest on a test. That's not true learning.

"Art doesn't just focus on the craft," he said. "It teaches another way of thinking."

For information on Vuthy Kuon and his work, go to www.woodtee.com.

Contact Rebecca Rose at rebeccar@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7548 .