The Coral Tree (Erythrina Variegate) is known as the Pka Cha tree in Cambodia; it can grow up to 30m/90ft tall.
In Cambodia, the Coral Tree is common in the northwestern region of the country. It has large seed pods with orange flowers.
The leaves on a certain rare species called Broad Leave Coral are large enough so the people use them in the same manner as the banana leaves to wrap food.
In the words of Coral Tree’s founder, Chenda Chhi,
“I want our foundation to connect as deeply with the poor children in Cambodia like the one I once was…”
For her, the Coral Tree is a symbol of hope and perseverance borne of her own experience:
“During the devastating Khmer Rouge time, while I was 14 to 17 years old, I (and other girls my age who weren’t on the list of those to be executed) were forced to work in the wilderness areas all over the Northwestern parts of Cambodia. I was often sick and famished. We were forced to work rain or shine, and in the summer months the heat was scorching. People were dying daily either from illness or were taken away and never seen again.”
“During the dry season, after the rice plants were harvested, we were moved around constantly. We had to walk from one rural area to another from dawn to dark evening when we could no longer see. One day we came upon a large and tall tree covered with bright red-orange blossoms without any leaves. Curiosity about that intense color kept me moving, despite the physical, emotional and mental fatigue I felt. The tree stood tall in the middle of the devastated lands of sad and dying people. Its beautiful blossoms were intense in appearance and color.”
The Khmer Rouge leader of our group decided to settle near that tree for a few days. The beautiful Coral Tree gave me, my sister and the girls in my group joy for those few days even though we were starving and had to endure hard labor.
“When we had to move again, I remember walking away and continually looking back to the tree until I could not see it anymore. The tree had such profound effect on me, reminding me of the old beautiful Cambodia that I knew before the horror of war and killing. It seemed that the tree witnessed our suffering and provided beautiful shade in the hot sun. When our lives were hanging by a thread, and death was all around us, to live another day to see such a beautiful tree was a great gift…”
“For the rest of my life the color red-orange stayed with me and after my escape to live in the United States, It seemed that I am always searching for a Coral Tree of the same type in books, at any Botanical gardens or nurseries I visited. To this day, whenever I return to Cambodia, I still search for coral trees like that tree I saw so many years ago, but I have not found any quite like that one.”
Chenda’s coral tree was a sign of hope through extremely tough times; it symbolizes hope and perseverance. It has deep roots and seeds that will provide for future generations and give them the strength and passion to endure and thrive.
For this reason, we are the Coral Tree Education Foundation.