May 17, 2018

What is going on in Cambodia

KCDI students performing at Kampot Arts Festival
KCDI students performing at Kampot Arts Festival

Dear friends of our school,

Thank you all so much for continuing your vital support for our school. We send you our gratitude and warmest regards!

In this report I would like to focus on our blind children, but before doing so I feel it is important that you all know about the current situtation both in Kampot where our school is and in Cambodia as a whole.

In July Cambodia will hold elections. However the prime-minister who has been in power since 1980 (except briefly after Cambodia's first free elections when the opposition party one),  has imprisoned the opposition, whilst others have gone into exile. Many human rights activists are also in prison. Some environmental activists have been killed, as well as one political activist who exposed corruption within the ruling family. Many newspapers and radio stations have been closed down, including the Cambodia Daily, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. Cambodian journalists including an Australian journalist have been arrested and are in prison

In the past Western countries had a significant influence on Cambodia's freedom of speech and the press was relatively free. However in the last five years the role of China has increased ten-fold, with a donation of 500 million US Dollars for "Cambodian development". This sum has dwarfed any Western contribution including the USA, reducing any voice the West may have had on democracy, the environment and human rights. Chinese development includes the building of large dams, power-plants, rubber plantations, garment factories, the Chinese tourist industry and so on. The negative effect on the enviroment that these developments have had, have been well noted, but continue none the less.

In parallel to these developments, Cambodian society has also begun disintegrating at an alarming rate, with Cambodian youth particularly at risk with widespread drug-use and glue-sniffing addictions, as well as alcohol and gambling addictions in both young and older generations. New very dangerous drugs continue to be churned out with seemingly little control or ability to stem the tide. Kampot which is a micro-cosmos of Cambodia has also been much affected by these unfortunate developments. The drug problem is now so serious in Kampot that some families have invited the police to arrest their children in order to save them from further drug use. There are even some police who have been arrested for meths use. Tuk-tuk drivers offer drugs to foreigners and several tourists have died in Kampot from drugs cut with sand or cement. The drugs problem is so overwhelming that we are all reeling and have not yet any statistics or figures to hand. We now have to be very careful that our own adolescent children from our school don't get involved in drugs through some fellow school-friend, when they attend state school for their scholastic lessons.

Exacerbating these severe social diseases, has been rampant, uncontrolled tourism. Many tourists are now coming to Cambodia for it's reputation of cheap drugs, as well as pedophillia and the sex-trade. As Thailand has been clamping down on these unsavoury persons, so they have turned to Cambodia. Many tourists then settle down in Cambodia on longterm visas and places like Kampot are now tragically full of alcoholics and people of dubious background.

If one can immagine what effect this must have on a society still overcoming deep trauma from the effects of the Khmer Rouge and the civil war which lasted until around 1999, then one can understand how devestating it is.

Paradoxally many foreigners in Phnom Penh come to do business and major business companies are now part of the capital city. Very expensive, private schools stand next to slums, there are luxury resorts and golf courses and many foreigners and wealthy Cambodians live well, quite cut-off from the tragedy which is unfolding in the rest of Cambodian society and possibly oblivious to the poitical state of the country.

Another fall-out is from well-meaning, more respectable tourists "pitying" what they think are homeless children and giving them dollars, gifts and food. Encouraged by this wealth, children are abandoning their families and becoming sucked into the horrors of life on the street. Many get stuck in gangs and become addicted to glue-sniffing and drugs, whilst their families are desperately looking for them. Unwittingly tourists have contributed to a very serious social problem and made it worse.

 In the midst of all this, our school sits in Kampot town and we are blessed with being on land that was a former Pagoda, where we have a large garden with flowers and trees and our staff do their very best to give loving guidance to our children, to protect them and keep them well and safe. It is a challenge and we are deeply worried about what is going on outside our school. We stay positive and focus on that which is good, but we remain aware and alert.

Having been in Cambodia for twenty-seven years and with my school since it began for twenty-four years, I am profoundly saddened with what I see. It feels a little like walking in the darkness and searching for a light to see the way ahead. This also applies to the never-ending search for funds to support our children's needs and run our childcare, education and arts programs. My staff are wonderful and are always making efforts to help our school by growing some of our own fruit or vegetables, spices, making shadow puppets to sell and so on, but these efforts though valient are not enough to support all our needs. Yet although the world has moved on from Cambodia and taking care of orphans is no longer "in vogue", there are children at our school, more than at any time in our history, who have endured tremendous suffering and have nowhere else to go, making it imperative that we help them.

Our blind children are doing well. Since they began nearly three years ago, they have developed in their music studies wonderfully and are able to perform with great musicality Mohori, Pin Peat and Yike music. We would also like them to learn the Chapey Dong Veng instrument and we will look for funding to enable them to do so. 

They are also progressing well with their academic studies and being assisted by their Braille teacher. We thank the wonderful NGO "Krousar Thmey" for supplying us with Braille paper and paper-punching frames, abbacas for maths and so on. Our school of course sponsors our Braille teacher and all other expenses. Our secretary Miss Sophea also teaches them English and computer studies, meaning that they have the widest skill learning range possible, so that even if they don't choose music as a subject when they leave school, they will have other important skills as well enabling them to work in the civil service for example.

Thank you all for your marvelleous support.

With best wishes from us all at our school!

(Photographs by kind courtesy of Steve Porte, taken with our childrn's permission)

Performing the Takhe instrument
Performing the Takhe instrument
Doing maths
Doing maths

Links:

Mar 8, 2018

Reaching out to the Community

Painting together
Painting together

Hello dear Friends and Supporters of our School,

 

Thank you so much for your wonderful support during our December End of Year Campaign. We raised over $10,000 for our school which is an enormous help and keeps us open and running for several months. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Normally in these reports, I write about our students who come during the day for their free arts lessons and our resident children who are orphaned and some of whom are blind. Today I would like to tell you about the Kampot Arts Festival which was held for three days in January in coordination with Epic Arts and Sarawasati Press.

The idea of the Kampot Arts Festival which will also be held next year, is to support Cambodian artists by allowing them a voice and a platform on which to perform or show their arts. The emphasis is on tradititional arts, but also embracing contemporary arts too. More than at any time, are Cambodian arts and culture, especially traditional arts, in danger of dying out completely. There is such an overwhelming wave of Westernization, capitalism and rapid destruction of architectural and cultural heritage that there is no time to be lost in putting measures in place to conserve Cambodian arts.  The artists themselves are finding it harder and harder to make a living and their rich and ancient heritage risks being trampled underfoot by ignorant tourists and rampent real estate development, as well as unprecidented overeach by China into this small country.

With an opening ceremony held at our school, both our resident children and outreach students performed the "Robam Chuon Puor" (Blessing Dance), traditional Mohori music performed by our blind students and fantastic shadow puppet theatre. The wonderful contemporary arts NGO, Epic Arts gave a beautiful dance performance with their young adult students who are deaf and some also wheelchair users. The local Youth Club gave a performance of Folk Dance and one Epic Arts Studentsinterpreted all the different speeches in sign language. It was truly a special event. 

The next day our school opened it's doors to various shared activities with Epic Arts, these included painting and modern dance workshops, but also traditional dance, music and shadow puppet workshops given by our masters and oldest students. We were so happy when a large queue of young Cambodians came to learn about and participate in the arts. One of the most popular was the puppet-making workshop. It gave us hope for the future of Cambodia's culture when we saw so many young people joining in with such enthusiasm.

Then at the very beginning of March we welcomed Cambodian University students from the American Stanford University in Phnom Penh. They came to our school for a shared lunch with our resident and outreach students and our teachers.Then after a performance given by our students, they talked about the importance of higher education and striving towards creating a positive life. They were very good role models for our own children. Their visit is one of several that we have had in the last few months, encouraging an exchange of ideas amongst our school and other higher education institutes.

(Photos by Steve Porte. Permission was granted by all those photographed)

Performance on Opening Night
Performance on Opening Night
Epic Arts student interpreting a speech
Epic Arts student interpreting a speech
Puppet making workshop with Master Samoeun
Puppet making workshop with Master Samoeun
Students from Stanford Uni with KCDI
Students from Stanford Uni with KCDI

Links:

Feb 16, 2018

The Kampot Arts Festival!

Robam Chuon Puor (One of our KCDI student)
Robam Chuon Puor (One of our KCDI student)

Dear Friends of the Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children,

First of all on behalf of us all at school, we would like to profoundly thank you for your most amazing help and support during the Giving Tuesday and End of Year Campaign. Thanks to your generosity and to our chairman Dr Peter Carey's wonderful networking, we raised $10,000! That is an incredibly important contribution as it provides our school with over one third of our annual budget.

Your support is being used to provide our children with food, clothing, medical care, electricity, water, support for our Braille teacher, our arts program and our childcare program. All our staff are Cambodian so that each donation goes straight to our school programs and our children without any waste on expatriate overheads, administrative costs etc, our board of directors is of course entirely voluntary.

In January of 2018, we helped organise the first Kampot Arts Festival for Cambodian artists together with Epic Arts and Sarawasati Publishing. We are deeply concerned about the neglect of the traditional arts by the Cambodian Government and the sharp rise of Westernised practices which are threatening to wipe out Cambodian culture altogether. First there was the war, then the genocide and now greed and indifference.

The opening ceremony was held at our school and our students performed the Robam Chuon Puor (Blessing Dance), Mohori and Pin Peat music (by our blind students) and traditional shadow puppet theatre. Epic Arts also gave a beautiful contemporary dance performance with their adult students some of whom are deaf or wheelchair users. The local youth club also gave a rendition of a lovely Folk Dance. The local Director of the Department of Culture came too. The next day we gave workshops on how to learn traditional Cambodian dance moves, Pin Peat music and how to make shadow puppets out of cured leather. Epic Arts also gave a contemporary dance and painting workshop at our school too. What was so lovely, was the queue of young Cambodians from the public wanting to take part and participating with such interest and enthusiasm. It really lifted our hearts, because it showed there was still hope for the arts in Cambodia.

In December we had a Belgian technical team come and visit and give expert help in re-wiring our main hall and bedrooms, they even installed a washing machine and also generously donated new mattresses and cooking utensils. Meanwhile medical staff and doctors from the Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital in Kampot gave our children and staff a workshop on preventative hygiene and our cook went on a cooking and food hygiene course given by a local Italian Chef, who kindly did everything for free. This is because the Ministry of Social Affairs has issued new regulations for centres and schools such as ours, so our cook who is actually already a very good cook, undertook this extra training.

Some of you also very kindly helped donate for two earlier appeals, one for transport for those of our special needs children who need to have medical care, some of it life-saving in Phnom Penh and in other provinces and in particular for one of our girls who suffered such a lot in her earlier life. Thevi (Not her full name) is now doing much better and after being diagnosed with epilepsy like her younger sister, she regularly receives treatment from the Russian Hospital in Phnom Penh, while her sister who is under fifteen, receives free medical care from the Kunthea Bopha Hospital. One of our little boys who has HIV and was hospitalised in December with the flu is now very well. 

We are now developing our Outreach Program, so as to give free performing-arts lessons at our school to more children from local villages and pagodas, who would not otherwise receive this kind of training. I will keep you all updated on our progress.

We do not at present have any major donor or sponsor, although for the first decade and a half, we were very lucky to have complete funding from Terre des Hommes (Netherlands), Memisa and various embassies and foundations. Today Cambodia is not considered as an emergency, although around 75% of the population live in rural areas, which have remained in absolute poverty and developed little in the last two decades. Cambodia seems to be two countries, one for wealthy urban Cambodians and expatriates and one for ordinary Cambodian people for whom human rights violations, land grabs, difficult living conditions, destruction of the environment by foreign investors is a fact of life. Still much of the population in rural Cambodia have no electricity or clean, running water, sewage, toilets, functioning health centres and so on, Tuberculosis is endemic and Malaria a killer and HIV still rife. Parents leave their children and disappear into Thailand to try and earn a living. Today thankfully there are less orphaned children, yet still we see that much of Cambodian society is not ready for loving and adequate foster-care. Many of our children have suffered as a result of being abused or sold into slavery by their extended family, or rejected for having HIV by their communities. The Ministry of Social Affairs is doing it's best to enforce strict regulations on childcare for orphanages and care centres and this has helped eliminate "false" orphanages and unfortunate practices. It is a lot work, but it's worth it!

Thank you all so much for your heart-warming support. Each one of you has contributed to keeping our school open and running.

My thanks also to Steve Porte for his most marvelleous photographs!

With warmest wishes from us all 

Mohori Performance (Our KCDI students)
Mohori Performance (Our KCDI students)
Epic Arts performance
Epic Arts performance
Shadow Puppet Theatre KCDI students
Shadow Puppet Theatre KCDI students
Puppet making workshop with Master Samoeun KCDI
Puppet making workshop with Master Samoeun KCDI
The Queue to get in at our school - KCDI
The Queue to get in at our school - KCDI

Links:

 
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