Thear was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, during the Khmer Rouge, a Communist regime led by Pol Pot. By year four of his time in power, Pol Pot had presided over the deaths of 2 million of his people. Thear’s family somehow managed to survive the genocide, escaping to a Thai refugee camp before moving to America under the sponsorship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. Thear’s mother and father worked minimum-wage jobs to support their family, and the five kids pitched in by rooting through trash and redeeming cans for a nickel and bottles for a dime. They wore donated clothing and initially lived in housing projects in West Dallas, where they often received calls telling them to “go back” to their country; they feared for their safety. With the support of a local church and two individuals — Ron Colwart, a local police officer who got Thear involved in a scouting group he had started for Southeast Asian students, and John Gallagher, Thear’s third-grade teacher, who advocated for her education — her life was transformed.
Today, Thear works with more community organizations than there’s room to list, including the boards of directors of the Texas Women’s Foundation, the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, and the Boy Scouts of America. As a Presidential Leadership Scholar in the 2019 class, Thear took on a personal leadership project, engaging men in the conversation about invisible gender differences and how women and men can work together to solve the gender equality issue. When I talk to Thear, she will say, “We have come full circle, from receiving help from others when we were in need to now serving others in need.”
Adapted from OUT OF MANY, ONE, by George W. Bush. Copyright © 2021 by George W. Bush. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.