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Mao Ly is the proud partner in an Ottawa cleaning business, three decades after he fled the Cambodian countryside with his wife and baby. ((Kate Porter/CBC))

Ottawa's Cambodian-Canadians are thanking the community for the opportunity to start over after they fled civil war and starvation in their home country decades ago.

The Cambodian Association of the Ottawa Valley has invited hundreds of private sponsors and members of the public to eat, dance and experience Cambodian culture as part of an event Saturday commemorating the 30th anniversary of the arrival of the first Cambodian families in Canada.

Mao Ly is the proud partner in an Ottawa cleaning business, three decades after he fled the Cambodian countryside with his wife and baby. At the time, people were starving under the regime of Pol Pot, leader of the communist Khmer Rouge.

Each day, people would disappear, he recalled.

Ly and his family made it by truck to a United Nations refugee camp in Thailand.

His friend Sath Kam took a different route through the mountains, navigating by the sun towards the west.

Both were eventually sponsored by the Canadian government. They said they remember the patience Canadians showed as they learned to ride an elevator and cash a cheque for the first time.

Ly said while Cambodia is the place that gave birth to him, "Canada [is] the place that gave me a life. We are proud and we want to say thanks to Canada. But the word we say is almost not enough."