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Oct 27, 2015

How Mohori Music Brought New Hope to a Blind Boy

A small group in the garden
A small group in the garden

 

Background

Tai is a very special boy with exceptional qualities. Born in a remote village in Kampot Province, he has been blind since early childhood. In Cambodia there is very little hope or opportunity for blind people. Those born in remote and poor villages are usually destined to live and die in extreme poverty, sometimes begging in the city, but tragically considered shameful or useless in Cambodian society.

Several years ago a small shelter was set up in Kampot by an Australian man, himself blind, to offer a better opportunity in life for blind children in Kampot. Last year our school was contacted by this very same gentleman who asked us to teach music to the children in his shelter. We agreed and began giving free tuition of Mohori music to the children. From ten children the number settled to eight, because two children moved to the capital Phnom Penh.

In a short space of time the children's hardwork and patience bore fruit and they began to put together their first Mohori orchestra ensemble. Coming diligently to our school everyday they studied with our Mohori master and our own sighted students resident at our school also helping the music master in teaching. Mohori music is an excellent form of vocational training, because Mohori music and Plein Ka music (a branch of Mohori) are used for festivals and weddings and because in Cambodian society, weddings are not considered complete without Plein Ka, then it is possible for musicians of this music genre to earn a good living. Forming an ensemble can help them have their own professional working orchestra.

One day we were told that their shelter was to close, through lack of support and funding and because the creator was himself elderly and no longer able to manage. He had already asked us earlier in the year whether we were willing to care for his children should the worst come to pass and we promised him that we would do all that is possible to help them.

So today we now care and house these children at our school. We met their parents and we were given their permission together with the Department of Social Affairs in Kampot to help them in the development of their young lives. We also contacted the other few organisations concerned with the blind in the capital Phnom Penh to ask for their advice, which they kindly gave.

We felt that we had to help them, not only had we grown so fond of them during the months that they had studied with us, but also we knew that back in their villages, they had no chance of ever creating a sustainable future for themselves. The two Braille teachers allocated to the entire Province were available in Kampot town only and not able to teach in the different, isolated villages,  so rather than send them to an institute in another Province far away from their families, we said a big "Yes" to caring for them.

This means a lot of adjustment for our staff and children, not only on a physical level, (adapting our bedrooms and bathrooms to be more user-friendly for non-sighted children), but also to find Braille teachers and sponsors for Braille equipment and materials and to employ a special house-mother who can be on call for them 24 hours (doing shifts with two other staff already at our school).

 

Who is Tai?

Tai is one of our students aged 15 who in learing Mohori music at our school, revealed an extraordinary musical talent and a most beautiful voice. In July of this year, the Cambodian Ministry of Culture invited our school to participate in the ASEAN Conference "Art for All" in Thailand. So Tai together with our Pin Peat teacher and a representative from the Ministry of Culture, went to Thailand and performed at the conference to great acclaim. Tai and the other children are very important for Cambodian society, because their success teaches Cambodians to recognise that all people have a special value and can contribute to their country.

Now Tai and the other children are at our school, continuing their studies. Two passed their recent scholastic exams and are getting closer to their dream of university

Their presence has brought our children and staff great joy and empathy and they enrich our lives with the special qualities that they have.

 

Thank You

Thanks to your continued help and support, we have been able to help these special children. However we would like to receive your support in the future too, because we must provide extra food, medical care and clothing, as well as support for the Braille teachers and the special housemother. Please help us make this project a long-lasting one, so that not only these children are assisted, but all those children who are blind and who need help in Kampot can come to our school and build a future. We would like you to know that this is now the only special needs school -centre for blind children in the whole of Kampot Province.

Studying Mohori
Studying Mohori

Links:

Oct 27, 2015

Singing all the way from Cambodia to Thailand

In the garden
In the garden

Background

We have a lot of news to fill in these last three months.

Perhaps the most beautiful story is that of Tai who has been blind since early childhood and is part of a group of blind children who firstly came to study Mohori music at our school and who now live at our school as their permanent shelter.

Tai aged 15 has a wonderful singing voice and is also a talented musician. He comes from a remote village in Kampot. As with so many blind people in Cambodia, he had no chance of any kind of education or training in his birthplace, because there simply are not enough Braille teachers in Cambodia and none ever come to such isolated places as Tais' and of most rural Cambodians. Blind people are left to struggle alone, often ending up as beggars or living appalling lives. Some are regarded with shame by their families and hidden from sight. The Cambodian Ministry of Culture invited our school to participate in the ASEAN Conference "Art for All" in Thailand. Together with our Pin Peat music master and a representative from the Ministry, Thai went to Thailand and performed Mohori music and joined in the workshops for people from all over Southeast Asia. This was a very special moment, not only for our school, but for Tai and for the rights and recognition of blind people in Cambodia and everywhere. 

Our school has had to develop and adjust in order to help this group of blind students. We wanted them to be near their families and avoid them being sent to an institution or NGO in another province, not because the NGO's are not good, for they are excellent, but because the children very much need frequent contact with their families and to remain in a place that is familiar to them. We now have a special housemother to care for their needs, who works in coordination with the rest of our staff and Braille teachers. 

It has been truly beautiful to see our blind children so happy and to see our sighted children who already live at the school, take care of them and lead them by the hand around the school. Their presence enriches our lives and helps us to remember those who are hidden and forgotten by society.

 

Partnering to help the disabled

In these last two months we have also been partnering with Epic Arts in Kampot. They specialise in contemporary dance for disabled people, to promote their different abilities and to raise awareness and tolerance in Cambodia. They also wanted to do a traditional arts program for both disabled and non-disabled young people, but having no teacher specialists in this area, asked us to assist. We now teach their students at our school both traditional Mohori and Pin Peat music. We are very happy to be able to partner and to reach out to as many young people as possible.

 

Shadow Puppet Theatre Première

 

Do read on our Facebook page about our Shadow Puppet theatre program....we are doing our second workshop, this time about the art of performing shadow puppets, learning how to move the puppets, interpret voices and musical interludes as well as lighting techniques to create eery shadows. Find out when our première performance is on our Facebook page.

 

Thank you for your generous help

On behalf of all our staff and children at our school, we thank you for your belief in our work and your constant support and generosity. Please help our project for blind children, as well as all those children who receive free arts training and scholarships, to continue benefiting from our school programs. Thank You!

A Mohori ensemble
A Mohori ensemble
A music lesson
A music lesson

Links:

Aug 6, 2015

The revival of the art of Lakoun Sabaik Toch

Studying the art of puppet making
Studying the art of puppet making

Dear friends and supporters of Kampot Traditional Music School,

 

We are very happy to share with you our latest news. Finally after over 40 years since it's disappearance in Kampot Province, we have begun the revival of Lakoun Sabaik Toch.

 

What is Lakoun Sabaik Toch and why did it Disappear?

 

Lakoun Sabaik Toch is the ancient Cambodian art of shadow puppets. It is thought that it's origins are as old as a thousand years and that it was practised during the reign of the Kings of Angkor, in Siem Reap in North Western Cambodia.

Beautifully ornate characters are carved and cut out of specially prepared and cured cow leather. Propped on thin bamboo sticks to aid movement, they are played behind a lighted screen which creates eery shadows, to the interpretation of voices and Pin Peat music. There are two kinds of Lakoun Sabaik; the big one "Thom" and the small one "Toch", this doesn't mean the size of the puppets, but that the big one portrays only sacred and epic stories from the Hindu Ramayana (Reamker in Cambodian) and Buddhist tales and so is considered sacred and therefore in Cambodian language "Big". Cambodia was greatly influenced by Indian culture and Hindu religion, before converting to Theravada Buddhism at the time it is thought that Ashoka brought Buddhism to Southeast Asia. Today this wonderful mix of different cultural influences can still be found.

The "Small" Lakoun Sabaik puppet theatre consists of a mix of influences from the Ramayana (Reamker), the Apsara (celestial dancer found in carvings at Angkor) and comic, tragic and grotesque characters and animals depicting daily life. The "Small" shadow puppet theatre is for the people, telling stories about history, educative and moral tales and related to their lives. It is a much loved art.

First came civil war in Cambodia between 1970-75 when King Sihanouk was deposed and General Lon Nol took power and when the United States carpet bombed Cambodia to flush out Viet Cong fighters supposedly hiding on Cambodian soil. Then destabilized beyond repair, Cambodia with 1 million refugees in the capital Phnom Penh, cut off from food, supplies, the airport and roads closed, succumbed to the onslaught of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot.

The Khmer Rouge forced the entire population out of towns and cities and created a terrible "New Society" known as the "Year Zero". It is thought that between 2 to 3 million Cambodian people perished between 1975-79, a third of the population. Intellectuals, teachers, engineers, doctors, economists, artists, educated people, former civil servants, former police, soldiers, Buddhist monks, Muslim Chham and all these people's families were executed. It is estimated that 90% of Cambodian artists, both traditional and contemporary, died. In Kampot, the art of Pin Peat music died out, Mohori music was very basic and Lakoun Sabaik (Shadow puppetry) had disappeared altogether.

Imagine therefore what it must have been like in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge regime ended- in each Province, when there were no more teachers, doctors, artisans and artists. Yet Cambodia was not allowed to enjoy peace and reconstruction. The Khmer Rouge hid in the long range of mountains stretching all the way down the country and conducted guerilla warfare, inflicting fear and suffering on the populations living in the countryside. Ironically, the Khmer Rouge enjoyed a seat at the United Nations under the name "Democratic Kampuchea Party", as the official representative of Cambodia, in international opposition to the Vietnamese backed Cambodian government. A trade and aid embargo was imposed on Cambodia and the suffering of ordinary Cambodian people seemed endless. 

 

Reviving Lakoun Sabaik Toch in Kampot

 

Our school was built in the Southwestern Province of Kampot 21 years ago, during the civil war and indeed we faced many difficulties due to shelling, shooting and unrest. Gradually we developed from teaching traditional Pin Peat music, to Mohori and Plein Ka music, from folk dance to classical Cambodian ballet, Trott, Chhayam and then Yike theatre, music and dance. Our residential children graduated and more came in and then we expanded our program to include children from the local community, until today - when we teach 400 local Cambodian children traditional Cambodian performing arts, 10 blind children Mohori music and 20 scholarship children Pin Peat and Mohori/Plein Ka music.

All these years as we have developed, we have had the dream of creating our own traditional shadow puppet troupe - Sabaik Lakoun Toch and bring once more back to Kampot, this fantastic art form.

We finally received official sponsorship and we have just finished our puppet making course with the puppet master from Sovannah Phum on Phnom Penh. We shared our workshop with other local state schools and we have taken the first major step towards our goal. Now our students and teachers know how to cure leather, treat it, cut it, draw puppets, cut them out, ornament them and make them move. In so doing we have brought back to our children and to future generations the technique of skilled artisanship. 

In performing Lakoun Sabaik Toch, we are able to create our own story lines and portray real educative themes, such as the prevention of AIDS, the importance of education in rural areas, where children, especially girls are often pulled out of school to work and marry early, before finishing their education.

Yet without your help and support, we could never have developed as much as we have done, because before any new project is undertaken, we must first support our children and staff.

We would like to thank you all for your belief in our work, for your unstinting and generous support and for making it possible for us to continue helping so many children and conserving the precious cultural heritage of Cambodia.

Thank You! 

The puppet master giving a lesson
The puppet master giving a lesson
An ornamented puppet
An ornamented puppet
Two buffaloes, a butterfly and a monkey!
Two buffaloes, a butterfly and a monkey!
The end of the course!
The end of the course!

Links:

 
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