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Aug 17, 2016

One journey away from progress

Performing Pin peat for Shadow Puppet Performance
Performing Pin peat for Shadow Puppet Performance

If you go into rural areas in Kampot, away from the main road, you will find many people still without electricity and running water. None of the water whether in the city or the countryside is drinkable without being boiled. Children often go to school barefoot and sometimes miss lessons in order to work in the fields and assist their families. 

Due to lack of government policy regarding the past and the Khmer Rouge genocide (1975-79), there has been no form of truth and reconciliation. An entire country has been left to overcome enormous traumas while their former perpetrators have gone free. The result is not surprisingly a mess. Many older generation people suffer from PTSD have affectivity problems, alcohol and gambling problems, and issues with violence. The younger generation has felt the effect and too many middle-class Cambodians have drug and glue sniffing problems. There is also an ever-widening divide between the rural poor and the wealthy ruling class, with ordinary people being dispossessed of their land, forests decimated and people's livelihoods along with it. Many people in rural areas are desperate to create a better life for themselves and their children and some leave their children behind with elderly relatives and head for Thailand to work there, sometimes never to return. 

Outside Kampot town there lies a village, Phum O' Toch where there are children who struggle to get by from day to day because their parents are not only poor but also have gambling and alcohol addictions. They would very much like to come and study at our school. Our Pin Peat teacher lives nearby and discovered that many of them are naturally very talented artists. For them coming to our school would mean receiving serious vocational training which can shape their futures as professional musicians, shadow puppeteers and/or dancers. However, many of them are too poor to own a bicycle and are fearful of the main road to Kampot in the evening after classes. They would like to come if we can provide them with transport. Coming to our school, receiving training and when needed a hot meal and loving support, as well as medical care and counselling can make all the difference in their young lives. Please visit our micro-project to support their transport costs for this year.

Rithy* is eleven and has been a scholarship pupil and would like to continue performing. He is a very talented musician and performed last year at the first Kampot Writers and Readers Festival. He used to come and eat at our school and sometimes sleep there too when things got too rough at home. Sometimes he did not know when his next meal was coming, because his parents were out gambling. He loved coming to our school. However financial support has dwindled and not being able to provide transport, he could not come anymore. We would really like to be able to continue supporting Rithy and all those children from Phum O' Toch who dream about studying at our school.

Thank you for all the support you have given and for your kindness and generosity through all this time. Please spread the word about our project to help make it possible for our village children to have lessons at our school too.

Thank You

*To protect Rithy's privacy we have not given his real name.

Performing in a national cultural competition
Performing in a national cultural competition
Singing the national anthem at the KWRF Festival
Singing the national anthem at the KWRF Festival

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Aug 15, 2016

Unsung Hero

Thiyeu gives constant care to our blind/deaf child
Thiyeu gives constant care to our blind/deaf child

Taking care of children is a life-long task, as any parent will know. Taking care of special-needs and orphaned children is an incredibly difficult and rewarding role.

Day to day care with all it's challenges, tears, pain, joy and satisfaction remains unseen to the outside world. No camera, no media, no hype can truly define the daily, hourly work of looking after young lives. Because it's such painstaking and slow work, it can't be measured in high numbered graphs and statistics and when children have grown up and become adults, the world has moved on.

It is thanks to people like you who do believe and do understand that this extraordinary work of caring for others can take place.

I would like to tell you all about Thiyeu who is our senior housemother and whose work and dedication are not "seen" in the wordly sense, but should be recognised.

Thiyeu comes from a very poor minority Muslim family. Although Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist, there is a small percentage of people who descend from the Kingdom of Champa which ran through the centre of Cambodia nearly a thosuand years ago and whose King was defeated by the King of Angkor. When Thiyeu was thirteen her father became sick with Tuberculosis. In those days there was no proper cure or free treatment, so Thiyeu gave up her education and began working in building-sites to earn money to pay for medicine for her father.

In 1994 when building our school, a construction worker asked to work at our school after construction had finished. Her name was Thiyeu and she became our cleaning lady. Shortly afterwards, (after several years of illness), much to her grief her father died and our school became her second family.

She was forced into an arranged marriage by family members which ended in disaster and so we took care of her ourselves. Noticing her talents and her quick mind, we offered to give her a formal education, because at the time she was illiterate. She quickly learned to read and write as well as maths. From there she grew and her multiple talents blossomed, until she became senior Housemother. She married again, this time of her own choice and the Imam came to our school with her future husband to ask me, then director, formal permission for the marriage, which was a great honour. Thiyeu now has two beautiful children aged 11 and 13. When they were born, she was able to bring her babies with her after maternity leave and nurse them and stay with them whilst at our school.

She recently undertook accountancy training, has taken a first aid course and will do nursing training with the Cambodian Red Cross in the near future.

Last year, when our little boy who had grade three HIV was seriously ill and his mother lay dying in hospital, it is Thiyeu who took care of them both, in an emotionally, physically and psychologically very taxing period. She also supervises our blind students, takes them to state school lessons and then picks them up again, bringing them back to our school. After being taught some physiotherapeutic exersises she now ensures that our blind children do these exercises reguarly to build up muscle strength.

When our blind and deaf boy first arrived at our school, so lost and distressed, it is Thiyeu who stayed with him until he could find trust in the people around him. She refused to go home and have a rest, even though of course it is her right. So her children came to stay with her at our school. As with all those who live and work at our school, she doesn't see her work as just a job, but as her family and her other home.

It is also Thiyeu who helped with the selection of a second housemother to provide assistance, knowing exactly what qualities are needed in this job. Our second housemother, an older woman who has also gone through much trial and tribulation, is also a marvellous person too. Now they share the care of our children with HIV, our little blind and deaf boy, our blind children and our orphaned children, one of whom has epilepsy.

Without Thiyeu and our other caring staff, our school could not exist as a care centre, but would only be an arts centre. Being both is exceptional and it is thanks to Thiyeu and to all those who work so hard and with such integrity at our school, that this is possible.

Here is a quote from a Child Behaviour Specialist Doctor from the University of Oregan, who visited our school early in 2016:-

"I was very positively impressed with the enthusiasm and committment of former residents (Now teachers), for their successes and the excellent English spoken. I was very touched by the progress of the little (blind and deaf) boy. His progress, as well as the genuine fondness with which he was treated by staff and other children. Overall the warmth of relationships amongst everyone there and the kindness and happiness expressed, were very impressive."

 

Thank You So Much for supporting our work.

If you would like to continue helping, please do so. If you would like to help with a specific project, please visit our homepage and look at the micro-projects currently running. We are currently raising funds for one of our children with HIV to have specialist treatment in Phnom Penh. We only have 80 days left, but his need is urgent. Please spread the word!

Thiyeu with our Yike teacher and two children
Thiyeu with our Yike teacher and two children
Working together 22 years - Catherine & Thiyeu
Working together 22 years - Catherine & Thiyeu
Thiyeu integrates an orphan whose mother just died
Thiyeu integrates an orphan whose mother just died

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Jun 3, 2016

The life of Loak Kru Samouen

Sharing a joke after playing the Tro Sau
Sharing a joke after playing the Tro Sau

Dear friends and supporters of our school,

 

Thank you for your continued support and interest in our activities. We are so grateful for your kindness and generosity!

Normally our reports focus on our children and what's going on at our school. As you know we have multi-layered programs, we give scholastic education, full-time care and traditional Cambodian music and performing arts to blind children, orphaned children with HIV and orphaned children who have no-one left to care for them. We also give free arts training to four hundred children, including very disadvantaged children and deaf and disabled youth. Our programs also help girls and focus on their higher education.

But who are the marvelleous people who give all that care and training, who dedicate not just their teaching hours, but their lives to the care and education of so many children? One of them is Loak Kru Samoeun*. Loak Kru means "Master" and comes from the Sangskrit "Guru" , because older teachers are greatly respected in Cambodian society for the knowledge and skills they possess.

Loak Kru Samoeun was born in Srok Sau Kik in Kandal Province in 1946. He grew up in a farming family and his parents tended their rice-fields and grew vegetables and fruit. As an adolscent boy Loak Kru Samoeun fell in love with Mohori and Plein Ka music. Beautiful music played on different string instruments and dating back a thousand years. He studied from the elderly musicians near his village and within a very short space of time he became a gifted musician and began working on a professional level, performing at ceremonies and weddings all through the Sihanouk era and the Lon Nol regime, until US B 52 carpet bombings and Khmer Rouge guerilla incursions forced him and many others to flee to near Phnom Penh.

On April 17th 1975 when the capital Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, the entire population of the city and indeed towns and cities all over Cambodia, were forced to leave their homes in a gigantic exodus, including the sick, wounded and the elderly and infirm. Loak Kru Samouen and other young Cambodians like himself made their way back to their villages of origin. Avoiding Khmer Rouge patrols, they cut accross the countryside and to survive picked fruit and vegetables from the abandoned fruit and vegetable gardens. He was captured by the Khmer Rouge along with ten other Cambodians and blind-folded and his hands and legs tied and put in a boat and taken up river to a Khmer Rouge prison where he was held for a month. Each day the Khmer Rouge interrogated prisoners and those who had worked for the previous regime, or who were doctors, teachers, engineers or people from Phnom Penh, were led away and executed. Loak Kru Samoeun survived because he came from a farmer family and not an educated intellectual background. He was eventually released and allowed back near his village where he was put to forced labour.

First he was made to plough fields with oxen, but his slender frame and lack of food made it difficult for him to physically resist the effort and he was then whipped and beaten and sent to work in giant vegetable gardens. Together with six others he had to tend six hectares of land, going back and forth from the Mekong River to water (with only watering cans) all the fruit and vegetables on the huge plot of land. Starving from lack of nutrition and given only gruel, he, as all other Cambodians were forbidden on pain of death to pick vegetables or fruit, catch fish, or even eat lizards, mice and frogs. The "New people", those originally from the cities and towns were targeted by the Khmer Rouge and were executed in large numbers together with their families, including babies.  Again Loak Kru Samoeun despite being a musician, was lucky enough to be considered a farmer and though ill and starving was not specifically targeted by the Khmer Rouge, nor were his parents, although many family members died of starvation and disease.

When finally the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and after ferious battles the Khmer Rouge fled into their mountain and jungle bases, the Cambodian people could return to their homes and try and find their loved ones. A third of the population perished and every family lost someone, some as many as nineteen family members, even King Sihanouk.

Nintey-percent of Cambodian artists died, most executed, including popular artists and traditional ones. It is said that the much loved singer Sim Sissomath was forced to dig his own grave before being executed and Prince Sihamoni's dancing partner, the beautiful daughter of Yeah Khan was decapitated. In 1981, as one of the few survivors, Loak Kru Samoeun was called by the Cambodian Government to come to Phnom Penh and teach at the Royal University of Fine Arts and be a performer at the National Theatre. There were no proper salaries at the beginning, but he was paid in rice and food and together with a scattering of artists, he pieced together their lost heritage.

He married and had a son and is now a proud grandfather.

In 1990 and 1991, when the founder of the school (Catherine) came on request of the Dean of the Royal University of Fine Arts to teach violin in the Western Music Department, Loak Kru Samoeun saw her and their paths crossed, although neither would know at the time that Catherine would build a school in Southwestern Cambodia and that Loak Kru Samoeun would come and teach there!

Loak Kru Samoeun was formally invited to come to our school in 1997 and was granted permission by the Ministry of Culture and National Theatre to do so.

I wanted to tell this story in hommage to this lovely, humble and greatly talented man and wonderful human being. Dear Loak Kru Samoeun who has taught so painstakingly and patiently many many students, all of whom love and respect him and who with great skill and insight has taught our blind children to perform at a very high level, that they may have a future as professional musicians too.

Thank You Loak Kru Samoeun from the bottom of our hearts!

 

* In respect for his privacy I have refrained from writing his full name.

Teaching Blind Students Mohori music
Teaching Blind Students Mohori music
Making Traditional Shadow Puppets
Making Traditional Shadow Puppets

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