I feel it an honor to be here today to celebrate the life of Onesta Carpene, who
was a mentor, a friend, an ally, at times an accomplice in mischief, and a source
of inspiration for over 20 years.
One of Onesta's great gifts was her selfless humanity and her belief in the dignity
of every human being. She devoted her life to righting the wrongs done to the oppressed
- whether that oppression came from politics, poverty or other reasons.
I first met Onesta in Phnom Penh in May 1980. Cambodia was at a different place than
it is today - Cambodians were just emerging from a cruel nightmare and struggling
to pick up the pieces of their lives, to rebuild their lives and country. Onesta
was the very essence of compassion and through her humanitarian works brought hope
and touched the lives of thousands of Cambodians. For example, how many families
inside and outside Cambodia were reunited thanks to Onesta's efforts? Deeply rooted
in her own spirituality, Onesta understood the importance of Buddhism, Islam and
Christianity in healing wounds and supported many efforts to restore the religious
traditions of Cambodians.
Onesta saw people as they were, but also as they could be when at their best. She
had a knack for bringing out the best in others and getting them to work together.
She harnessed energies in an amazing way. I was always impressed with her networks
around the world and how wisely she tapped into them and engaged them, in working
on behalf of Cambodia.
Onesta lived her life and work with incredible passion, and this along with her "Italian
qualities" made her a daunting leader in our small expatriate community. She
was a passionate advocate for Cambodians and offered her industry and energies towards
changing the international political conditions that imposed continuing suffering
on Cambodian people. Thus she worked tirelessly "speaking truth to power",
advocating for lifting of the embargo and ending the isolation of Kampuchea, for
the normalization of aid and diplomatic relations with Cambodia, for the reunification
of Cambodians at the border with Cambodians inside the country, for unseating the
Khmer Rouge at the United Nations and for bringing the perpetrators of the genocidal
regime to justice.
Onesta was a driving force and founding member of the NGO Forum in the mid 1980's
whose mission at the time was to give testimony and awaken the international conscience
to the plight of Cambodian people. How many times Onesta came to me and said, "Eva
we must do something, non?" and that usually meant we were in for a lot more
Through those difficult years Onesta nurtured our spirits as well as our bodies.
Going into Onesta's room - 306 - in Monorom Hotel was always an impressive experience.
One would be pleasantly assaulted by the pungent fragrance of very ripe Provolone
cheese which used to hang in a net from her shower curtain rod, alongside some of
the best salami in the world.
From her early days in Cambodia, and especially after the signing of the peace agreement,
Onesta championed the cause of Cambodians' right to determine their own future and
course of development. She supported Cambodians to take control of the reconstruction
and development efforts often being driven and imposed from the outside. She believed
in the Cambodian people and helped them to believe in themselves. And thus she gave
many Cambodian people a voice.
And here we are today, all of us having been touched in some way, brought together
once again by this unique and remarkable woman, Onesta Carpene, who used her life
to serve others, to serve us all. Though she is no longer with us in body, she is
manifested everyday, in hundreds of ways in the rebirth of this nation, Cambodia
and its people.