The Riem family first began back in 1979 when Saren Riem and Sontheavy Hul met and fell in love under dire circumstances at the Kao E-Dang Refugee camp in Thailand. At that time their home country of Cambodia was under communist threat and rule by the Khmer Rouge and shortly thereafter, the “Killing Fields” ensued and terrorized the lives of everyone that did not agree with the views of the Khmer Rouge. Throughout all of the unspeakable brutality and seemingly endless pain that Saren and Sontheavy saw and felt all around them, they grew strong with each other as well as their families; they fought and found a way to be together throughout all the suffering they had witnessed. Finally in 1980, they were married and shortly after the U.S. Government helped to bring Saren, Sontheavy and many others in the Hul Family, as well as thousands of Cambodian Refugees to the United States. They felt very fortunate to have been given an opportunity of freedom in a place they felt they were finally able to escape persecution. A place where they were able to make an honest dollar, have a safe home and in general a safe life. They as well as hundreds of other Cambodian refugees came to America to find a new life, but never forgot the past in which they suffered countless unbearable memories. Now in America, it was a new start.
The Riems, Saren and Sontheavy, made their way out to the small coastal city of Oxnard, California and were able to work, doing hard, back breaking labor, they used their determination from the old country to work fearlessly in the U.S. After a year of working night and day, doing menial jobs, they were able to go to school, learn English and learn the ways of the U.S. all the while becoming pregnant with their first child. They pooled their money together and were able to save up enough to open a bakery in the then booming area of Downtown Main Street in Ventura, California. The bakery was named Sarentheavy Bakery, a hybrid of names from the two hard workers that put there blood, sweat and tears into their new business venture.
During this time, Sontheavy and Saren juggled their time to handle the bakery as well as raise their first child, Sopheak. She spent the early years of her life in the bakery with her grandmother, Sontheavy’s mother Samyin Hul.
In the summer of June1987, Saren, Sontheavy and Sopheak were all happy to meet and enjoy the presence of their now youngest and newest member of the family. Now June 23rd, 1987 marked the date of a wonderful soul being brought into the world. The two siblings, being five years apart were surprisingly close Sopheak held and coddled Sophear when he was a baby still in the crib. She loved to pamper him as if he were just a small precious doll instead of her real life sweet and fragile baby brother. The beautiful family of four seemed to be perfectly content with the picture perfect family they now had. Saren and Sontheavy finally had what they dreamed of for so long, a peaceful life with family and dear friends, good jobs, a home filled with happiness and of course a little girl and a little boy to complete the family they built off of love.
As the years went on, the family went through hardships as all families do, they had to deal with the death of Sontheavy’s mother Samyin Hul, the entire family took it very hard as she was the glue that held the entire clan together. Shortly after her death they began watching several of their other extended family members pass away slowly, but unfortunately surely. In the summer of 2001, their daughter, Sopheak was in a tragic auto accident that unfortunately claimed the lives of her two friends Ana Rosa Uribe and Lea Casillas, and put her in the hospital with a lacerated liver, punctured lung and internal bleeding. The family was afraid of losing her as well. However, she pulled through and recovered beautifully with the prayers and love of her family and friends. The Riem family has dealt with losses and tragedies from all angles, from war and death and everything in between. Through it all, they have always been able to stand together to get through the hardships and rise to the occasion, no matter what the issue was.
Until the heartbreaking day of November 4th, 2007: when they were given the tragic news that the youngest, beloved member of their family was so viciously taken away from them. When police arrived at the house to deliver the world shattering news that Sophear Riem had been killed, it was just too much to bear. The three remaining family members were left in awe to wonder why someone would take away such a beautiful soul; one like Sophear’s was hard to come by, especially in the current state of the world. Friends, family and even brief acquaintances alike were left to question the meaning of life and wonder why, why would someone like Sophear be killed in cold blood. He was an innocent bystander at a friends bachelor party, he was in an area he felt was safe and with friends he felt would and could protect him, but unfortunately for us all, the evils of this world claimed his life anyway.
All of Sophear’s family members and friends have all tried to move on with their lives in honor of Sophear and his rock star passion for life, however not one day goes by where they don’t wish he was still here on this Earth with the ones that love him. People will never fully understand the magnitude of losing a loved one until it has happens to them, however Sophear’s loss is held by everyone he touched.
After all of the initial shock went away and after a long period of grieving, Sophear’s loving mother, Sontheavy, felt a deep urge to create a foundation to honor her son’s life and memory. Even after losing her youngest child, she still felt the need to help her community and build better lives with the Foundation she planned on starting in Sophear’s honor. She enlisted the help of the remaining family members, and as well as all of his friends to work together to build and create a better future for people, as small as the gesture are, it is as the wise old saying goes, “with adversity comes opportunity.”
With all of the hardships that the Riem family has had to endure within the last 50 years it has been the loss of their son, Sophear that has weighed the heaviest. His passing has been an incredible adversity. So once again, with adversity comes opportunity, and Sontheavy has seen the Sophear Riem Foundation as an incredible opportunity to try to do amazing things for people.
The Riem family has had much heartache in the past, and they hope to never encounter this type of pain again, however it has made them stronger and more dedicated to living a passionate life for the sake of Sophear. He was always a kind, giving and genuine soul, and would never have wanted his family to stay closed up in a hole. He would want everyone he loved to live life to the absolute fullest; Sophear was giving until the day he left this world. Giving of his friendship, giving of his love and giving of his hope and for that, he has taught so many people a valuable lesson: if it were not for hope, the heart would break, and with a broken heart we would not be able to go on.
The Riem family has seen many pains and has had many losses throughout their years separately and together; however the hope and love they felt from Sophear has helped them to move on a bit stronger with each step, so even in his passing he is still teaching us what is important, to have hope for a better tomorrow, and for that lesson, we thank him.
The Riem family would like to thank you for taking your time to read their story, and they wish that the story of their beloved son and brother will help to give people hope for a better tomorrow.
© 2009. Sophear Riem Foundation