Our History 20 Years Ago
Our school, the Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children (Khmer Cultural Development Institute/KCDI) was built in 1994 after being ratified in 1993 as a Cambodian NGO. We are celebrating 20 years of activity since the opening of our school all those years ago! To celebrate we will be tracing the lives of some of our earlier students until the present day.
Looking back, those of us present in 1994, remember the extreme difficulty in building our school under siege during the Cambodian civil war and the early afternoon curfew at 3pm imposed on all traffic from the capital Phnom Penh to Kampot, 137km Southwest. We remember the Khmer Rouge who had their stronghold in the neighbouring mountain of Phnom Vor and the terror and damage they inflicted on the local population. Many of our children resident at that time were orphaned because of Khmer Rouge attacks and so many of them, including our staff suffered from traumatic stress. How difficult it was then too, to go into isolated villages with representatives from the Department of Social Affairs to interview children requesting assistance at our school. Everyone was terrified of being caught in a Khmer Rouge ambush!
We remember too, how difficult it was to convince donors of the importance of traditional Cambodian culture and how traditional music was seen by international donors as an unnecessary ornament. Later on of course, UNESCO was to declare traditional Cambodian culture as “World Intangible Cultural Heritage,” and it then became the “fashion” to have art schools. None the less we were the first serious cultural school to be built outside the Royal University of Fine Arts and with the blessing of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and with the participation of great Cambodian masters from the Royal Palace and National Theatre. The founder of KCDI herself was a teacher at the Royal University of Fine Arts having graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in London as a violinist. This connection between artists greatly helped further respect and understanding between Cambodian musicians and the founder’s dream of restoring and preserving traditional Cambodian music and culture.
Although the civil war is over, yet so many Cambodians suffer the after-effects of the genocide and the prolonged war of attrition. Children today are often orphaned and abandoned because of AIDS and because of psychological traumas suffered by their parents.
Sombat came from Takeo Province and from a difficult family situation, He came as a little boy in 1994, joining our very first group of children at the Kampot Traditional Music School. He was both good at academic studies but also very good at music and learned Pin Peat music (sacred ensemble) specializing in the Roneat Ek instrument. He learned firstly from the great Master Toch* who died in around the year 2000 and who was one of the last great Masters left alive after the Khmer Rouge genocide. After his retirement, Sombat learned with another great Master, Meas* from the National Theatre and Royal Orchestra.
Sombat graduated from the Kampot Traditional Music School in 2002, having gained his lyceum Baccalaureate II certificate. He went on to study at the University of Phnom Penh in agricultural studies, but he was soon to be appreciated by the Ministry of Culture and after his graduation at the University he was employed by the Ministry of Culture.
Sombat was one of few traditional musicians able to notate and document traditional music, a skill he inherited from his Master Meas. He was employed by the Ministry in their documentation program of rare music. He went on to work at the Royal University of Fine Arts, as a Pin Peat teacher and also as one of the Royal Musicians at the Royal Palace.
In around 2009, Master Meas retired from the Kampot Traditional Music School and returned to Phnom Penh, nominating Sombat as his successor, a great honour, considering the high standard and exactingness this Master had for the tuition of Pin Peat music.
Sombat has been teaching at the Kampot Traditional Music School KCDI since 2009. He married his high-school sweetheart and they now have two young children aged 4 and 2 years.
*For the protection of privacy, the names of individuals have been changed. Those photographed have given their permission for their photograph to be used in this report.
What We've Been Doing Recently
As you all know the Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children (KCDI) is helping over 400 local primary and lower-secondary school children with free training in the arts.
Because of your precious help over the last 12 months, we have been able to reach out and assist children from the following schools:-
- Samdach Ta Primary School
- Tray Koh Primary School
- Di Pok Mohasamaki Lower Secondary School
We of course teach Pin Peat and Mahori music, classical Ballet and Folk Dance, but we also teach ancient Yike theatre.
What is Yike?
The Yike (pronounced Yeekay) is an ancient art form with Khmer, Chham and possibly Malay influences. In a part of what is now modern day Cambodia, there lay the Kingdom of Champa, with a population (the Chham) who were of Muslim religion. Around eight hundred years ago, the Khmer Empire fought with the Kingdom of Champa and this small Kingdom became part of the Khmer empire. Today Chham people and Khmer live together in peace and harmony.
In the Province of Kampot, there are many Chham people who are part of an ethnic minority in Cambodia. Although today the Yike is mostly performed by Khmer artists of Buddhist religion. It is an art form that incorporates singing, music, dance and theatre, yet it is unlike any other traditional Cambodian music or dance, because the singing is different, the dance moves are different and special drums are used similar to those used in the music of the Chham people today. The Yike evolved as an art form for people from the countryside and it expresses historical events, moral and religious tales and sometimes humourous representations. Yet this extraordinary art form after the Khmer Rouge genocide and the decline in traditional culture, risks extinction. That it is why it is so important that young children have access to proper, expert training so that they can continue their cultural heritage on into the future.
One of the most famous Yike troupes is based in Chhouk District in Kampot, they have won many national awards and accolades. It is the leaders of this troupe, a husband and wife team, who teach the Yike at our school. We are so honoured to have them. You can see in our photographs with this report, how many children are enthusiastic to learn Yike. From such a large number, certainly there will be those who will form a profession as Yike artists.
Our residential children (see www.globalgiving.org/residential-care-for-vulnerable-children-cambodia) recently won another trophy, also pictured with this report. This time they won third prize in a National Competition held at the National Chaktomouk Theatre. The competition was larger than the last regional one. Their dance was specially coreographed for them by a folk dance teacher from the Kampot department of Culture and our school was invited by the Ministry of Culture to perform in the competition.
Thank you for your wonderful help in helping keeping alive these unique traditions at our school. Please tell all your friends and please encourage everyone to give generously. We need special help to support our teachers to train so many children. Please help support our residential program too!
Thank you from our hearts!
What we Do
Since 1994 the Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children KCDI, (Cambodia), has been helping very vulnerable children in the Province of Kampot. These children have lost their parents, or have been abandoned or abused. Working closely with the Ministries and local Departments of Social Affairs, Culture and Education, our school has developed a detailed program to provide care and training for these children. We also focus on the preservation and development of Cambodian performing arts, almost lost after the Khmer Rouge genocide which killed up to 90% of Cambodia's artists. Through the use of the arts as well as scholastic education, we can help children find a sense of identity, purpose and vocation, whilst working towards the conservation of Cambodia's cultural heritage.
Many grown up children have graduated and gone on to University, become professional artists or have jobs and families. At the end of each report, we will write about the different students who have graduated from our school.
Our Activities and Current Children
The group of children who are today under our care, are aged from 11 to 17. They receive formal scholastic education until University level. This year, one of our students will be doing her high school diploma and going on to University. She is both bright at her academic studies, but also a highly talented classical ballet dancer. Both our educational officer and our classical ballet teacher, will help her to make an informed choice about her future studies, as she has the opportunity to attend either ordinary University or the Royal University of Fine Arts.
Our children return from their scholastic studies at midday and have lunch and a rest, before going onto extra scholastic language and science courses. They then study traditional Cambodian music, Pin Peat and Mahori, classical Cambodian ballet, folk dance and ancient Yike theatre. Our school KCDI carefully coordinates lesson timetables to fit our residential children's needs with those of children coming on our Community Arts Outreach Program. These latter children come mostly in the afternoons for their lessons, on those days when the Community Outreach Children don't have lessons, then residential children can have afternoon lessons.
Some Saturdays are taken up with public performances, either official ceremonies or performances given by KCDI to help students perfect their skills in front of a public.
In general, children rest on Saturdays and Sundays and play volleyball, football, watch television, enjoy the large garden and sit under the Tamarind trees. Together with their housemother they also do group games, painting, drawing, clay modelling and meditation. Sometimes the local Buddhist monk comes to explain children about Buddhist teachings, Cambodia being a predominantly Buddhist country. The school is situated in large gardens with many flowers and trees and two ornamental fish ponds. This provides our children with a sense of peace and security. There is also a vegetable garden and fruit trees.
Thanks to your support we will be able to continue running this program, providing our children with food, clothing, medical care, staff support, academic education and training in fine arts.
Performance at the National Theatre
On the 22nd of February 2014, our children performed the "Bokor Dance" especially coreographed for them by a dancer from the Kampot Department of Culture. Our children were invited to perform this Folk dance, depicting the people, animals and forest of the Kampot Bokor Mountain National Park, by the Ministry of Culture for the occasion of the National Cambodian Arts Festival in the capital Phnom Penh.
Last year the Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children KCDI, was cited as a role model for the rest of Cambodia, by the Minister of Culture.
In the future we would like to expand our cultural program to include Bassac Theatre and Cambodian shadow puppet theatre. These art forms will help to enrich our children's knowledge and enjoyment of Cambodian arts, as well as helping preserve them and bring them to Kampot where such performances are very rare.
We would also like to care for the two younger siblings of children already resident at school. Due to current lack of funds we cannot responsibly take them under our wing, despite them being in great difficulty. The local Department of Social Affairs has already given its permission for our school to assist them.
Ex Student News
Lena and Noy*
Lena* graduated from KCDI last year as a Plein Ka and Mahori musician, as well as a Folk Dancer. She then married and set up her own performance group with her brother Noy*. Noy graduated from KCDI as a musician and a painter, as well as a Folk Dancer. Together with other students graduated from our school, they perform at traditional weddings and ceremonies in Kampot. They help conserve Cambodian traditions, whilst running their own business. Lena also teaches performing arts during the daytime at a local German NGO.
*The names of people mentioned have been changed to protect their privacy. All those photographed here have given their permission