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Dec 3, 2018

A Masterclass by the legendary Madam Em Theay

Madam Em Theay in the background teaches a student
Madam Em Theay in the background teaches a student

Last week we had the great honour to welcome to our school the legendary dance teacher Madam Loak Yeay Em Theay. Considered a "Living National Treasure" in Cambodia, Madam Em Theay came with her daughter Madam Kim An our dance teacher to give a very special masterclass.

In the earlier part of the twentieth century, Cambodian traditional culture flourished and was famous worldwide for it's grace and beauty. Passed down from master to pupil using the oral tradition, for over a thousand years it was given to each new generation. The traditional culture of Cambodia, most especially music and dance is considered sacred. The crowns of traditional dancers have wing like shapes at the sides to represent celestial beings. No music, dance or theatre piece can be performed without first paying homage to Buddha and the ancestors of the arts. No crown may be placed on a dancer's head without prayer and offerings made first. It is said that Cambodians experience music from the cradle to the grave and that they are a nation of artists.

Alas the traditional arts nearly vanished when during the Khmer Rouge genocide between 1975-1979, approximately ninety percent of Cambodian artists were killed or perished from disease or starvation. Today rampant Westernisation of Cambodia and lack of attention and funding  by the government also threatens this ancient cultural heritage.

The Khmer Rouge genocide was preceded by war from 1970 and then followed by more civil war with the Khmer Rouge fighting from their mountain strongholds until the official ceasfire around 1998/99.

Imagine therefore what effect this had on the very fabric of Cambodian society and the sense of identity as a people. It is for this reason that Madam Em Theay the last surviving dance master is so important. She is a living memory. In 1979 there were five great dance masters left alive, now she is the only one left. Madam Em Theay and Madam Kim An are from the Royal Ballet and before the war lived and danced in the Royal Palace and were taught by her Majesty Queen Kossimak. The Royal family of Cambodia were traditionally the guardians of the arts.

When the terrible years of the Khmer Rouge rule ended, survivors slowly made their way back to the capital Phnom Penh. One of the first areas to be restored was the National Ballet and University of Fine Arts. Without any salary, because there was no currency (the Khmer Rouge had destroyed all banks and money), Cambodian artists were paid in rice and painstakingly pieced together their art forms, drawing from their memories.

Both Madam Em Theay and Madam Kim An have devoted their lives to restoring their heritage, teaching children each dance step and hand movement. In Cambodian dance each hand movement, has a special meaning such as an unfurling leaf, a flower in bud, love and so on. Women and girls perform three roles, the maiden, the prince and the ogre. Men and boys perform the Hanuman Money King and his army. For each role the hand and body movements are different. It is incredibly sophisticated. In the first photograph you will see Madam Em Theay in the background correcting one of our students as she dances the male role of the prince, Madam Kim An is in the foreground giving the correct example. Girls who are taller and have longer faces are selected to dance the male (Nirung) roles, whilst girls who are shorter and have rounder faces dance the female (Neang) role. 

Madam Kim An teaches all our resident children and the children on our Outreach Program (which you all kindly support). This means many children from outside our school who come from impoverished and disadvantaged backgrounds can benefit from the highest quality training and learn about and cherish their cultural heritage. Despite her advanced age Madam Em Theay very kindly gave a  free three-day masterclass to our resident children. We treasure her gift.

We would all like to thank you for so generously helping make our training programs in traditional Cambodian Music, Dance, Yike theatre and Shadow Puppet Theatre possible. We thank you for the kind support you give enabling us to reach out to many children. We thank you for your understanding that culture and the arts is a heritage which is so precious and really can make a difference in our world, bringing sublime beauty, harmony and solace to so many. Let us keep the arts alive everywhere!

If you would like to invite your friends and family to participate in our End of Year Campaign on GlobalGiving for 2018, this campaign is now open and running and will end on December 31st at 23:59:59 Washington DC time.

Thank you all!

Paying homage to a great teacher
Paying homage to a great teacher
Students studying the female role with Madam Theay
Students studying the female role with Madam Theay
Dance exercises!
Dance exercises!

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Nov 20, 2018

Thank you All for Your Marvellous Support

Our oldest girl having a Mohori music lesson
Our oldest girl having a Mohori music lesson

Dear friends and supporters of our school,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for the incredible generosity and wonderful support you have given our school. I cannot express enough how important and heart-warming your help has been. There are those who donate each month and then there are those who give super donations at critical times and during campaigns. There are those who donate when I am least expecting help and they don't give their email or want to be thanked and these suprises are so deeply moving. Each of you inspire profound gratitude.

This year we will be starting our most important fundraising campaign starting with #Giving Tuesday on 27th November 2018 at 00:00:00 ET ending 23:59:59 ET on the 27th November. This is super important for us because all donations will be matched by GlobalGiving, so what ever is donated we receive extra! This means even more help for our school.

Then on Wednesday 28th November at 00:00:00 ET our Year End Campaign starts and runs all the way through December ending on the 31st December at 23:59:59 ET. We aim to raise $10,000 and more. Please invite your friends and family too, every donation even the smallest, makes an important difference. With funds donated on #Giving Tuesday and the End of Year Campaign we will give our children food, clothing, medical care, transport to school for our blind children and bicycle repairs for our sighted children to go to school, Braille materials, Braille teacher for our blind children, childcare, counselling, hygiene products, cleaning and cooking materials, electricity, water, school materials and arts training.

So as not to bore you too much, I will write the details about how to donate at the end of this report. For now I will update you all on what we have been doing.

 As you know we work with children who have been left behind and forgotten. Our efforts can sometimes feel lonely and uphill, especially in the current Western influenced climate of condemning and ostracizing care centres, without proper knowledge of the historical and social challenges that country faces. None of these "experts" have taken into account the severe damage done to the very fabric of Cambodian society by the Khmer Rouge genocide and the two and half decades of war. How many Cambodian people have difficulty giving love because they are so hurt themselves. How old social-cultural beliefs affect the way Cambodian people view orphans and disabled children, as inferior beings.

Each one of you has been with us supporting us and read our reports about our children, about those who have been so badly abused that they have been disfigured, or who have been sold, neglected and abandoned. I am thankful to say that all our children are doing well and healing, some more gradually and some quickly in leaps and bounds. There those of our children who have severe epilepsy, HIV or asthma and so need constant medical care. You have supported our blind children and you have also learned through us of a great challenge in Cambodia, which is the education of girls. How we have experienced  both heartbreak and success in  helping girls to reach higher education, facing the difficulties of extended family who once abandoned them step in and try and claim them back for early marriage or factory work. Yet those who visit our school have no inkling of the trauma so many have been through and there is lots of fun, joy, laughter, camadarie and also lots of love.

These last two months I have been working in coordination with our director Mr Sothy,  on organising a series of training workshops for our staff with different Cambodian professionals who will kindly volunteer their expertise and time. Although our staff are loving and caring, they still need continual training and development in childcare, hygiene and children's rights. These three, important areas of training will be taking place starting from December 2018 and going through the year of 2019. We are extremely grateful to these wonderful Khmer (Cambodian) people for their precious help and good-will.

Our oldest boy has graduated and is doing vocational training in Phnom Penh under the protective umbrella of another NGO. Our oldest girl is preparing her graduation for next year.  We have been notified by authorities of a little boy who has lost both parents and is in dire circumstances, so we are investigating his situation. We have also been notified of other blind children who need assistance in education and rehabilitation.

Our wonderful classical dance teacher Madame An has rejoined us after being on leave for family reasons and she has opened a new class for children who live outside our school to receive free dance lessons at our school. There are many children from outside our school who live in poverty or difficult family situations who benefit from free arts education at our school.

We will be starting to make new shadow puppets now as the dry season sets in as we cure the raw leather with ancient techniques of natural drying methods and tree-bark based dyes and we cannot do so in the rainy season. We will be making a documentary film about the making of shadow puppets with the help of the filmmaker Ian Wiggins who has kindly made beautiful documentary films for free in the past. As you know our school revived the ancient art of shadow puppet theatre in Kampot Province which had been completely lost in this part of Cambodia.

This last year we did a micro-project to raise funds for new beds for all of our children. Through the generosity of donors we are now making new beds for all our children, having already completed several. You can see our project report and photographs on GlobalGiving. 

Our blind children received top marks in national school exams this year. This is a special achievement given that the other national participants were all sighted.

We also made traditional music recordings for an international radio station and gave several official concerts including the opening of the Kampot Arts Festival. 

Mrs An will also help us as assistant director until we can find a suitable person. We have been looking for some time, but it is quite difficult to find a loving, compassionate person with the right qualifications. We only have Cambodian staff at our school. Our director Mr Sothy has had all of this year a very sad and difficult family problem and has had to be in hospital with that family member in Phnom Penh for long periods. 

I was at our school for June and July and could help our director for that period and my observations on our school led to us creating the upcoming childcare workshops for our staff and doing our plastic recycling project. (You can look at our facebook page to see what we have been doing to combat climate change and prevent pollution).

Due to climate change in Cambodia, Kampot has seen over two years of perpetual rain without proper seperation of the dry season and the wet season. This has led to problems with pepper and salt production, but has also damaged buildings. This year unprecendented storms tore tiles off our main hall roof and the constant rain rotted the roof beams. We have now set up a micro-project on GlobalGiving to raise funds for repairing our roof including wooden beams and tiles. Our main hall is essential for us, it's where we teach our children the arts, where we hold workshops, concerts and therapy sessions. At the back of the main hall are a series of bedrooms where our residential staff live. A leaking roof and rotten beams puts people at risk and so we feel this problem needs urgent resolution. It seems for the first time in over two years a proper dry season is emerging and we would like to take advantage in order to repair our roof and make our shadow puppets (we also make our shadow puppets in the main hall).

Today as Cambodia boasts economic growth and international and government donors have withdrawn almost all aid from the country. Great swathes of society (approximately 70%) who live in rural areas have not been included in economic statistics and have been left completely behind. Still today hundreds of thousands of Cambodian people are without running water, clean drinking water, access to health care, adequate schooling and many die of preventable diseases because of poverty and under-qualified doctors making serious mistakes in diagnosis and treatment. There are those who sell everything they have to get medical treatment for a family member. In order to receive a complete education, children have to pay for extra courses which many cannot afford and so they drop out. 

As many wealthier countries have turned to Cambodia to invest in rubber, sugar, oil, minerals and tourism almost nothing has been done to address this extreme poverty. Richer countries ignore human rights violations and the erosion of democracy has been seriously under-reported by international news agencies. In this way many are complicit in allowing violations and poverty to continue.

If you would like to participate on our #Giving Tuesday and End of Year Campaign it is a good idea to donate to this project only, because the more donors we receive on a single project the more likely we are to recieve bonus prizes. All donations raised reach all our children and all our projects at our school. Payments can be made using credit card, debit card, Paypal, Apple Pay and official GlobalGiving Gift Cards. Unfortunately cheques and wire transfers cannot be accepted for #Giving Tuesday because of the length of time it takes for them to reach GlobalGiving.

Thank you for taking the time to read this report and for your lovely help!

Kind wishes to all from everyone at the Kampot Traditional Music School

 

 

 

 

  

Shadow Puppet rehearsals
Shadow Puppet rehearsals
Official performance by our students
Official performance by our students
Yike dance class
Yike dance class
Football!
Football!

Links:

Sep 10, 2018

Some Important News..

Tong looking through the lens..
Tong looking through the lens..

Hello dear friends and supporters of our school,

I would like to share some important news with you all....

Normally I don't like to bother any of you between large campaigns such as the Christmas one, because you all give so generously. There are even those of you who most wonderfully donate each month! Therefore I feel it's just not appropriate to keep on appealing, despite it being common pratice amongst NGOs.

We do send out three-monthly reports through GlobalGiving so that if you want you can read about what we have been doing at our school with yours' and others' support. You can safely read these reports without being appealed to!

However please might I ask each one of you to invite a friend or family member to participate on our  33 - Hour Bonus Fundraising Day on this Wedndesday September 12th? This would be of enormous help to our school.

It starts at midnight ET on Wednesday the 12th September and ends at 08.59am ET on Thursday 13th September. GlobalGiving will give up to $50,000 matching funds for early donations. These kind of events can make an important difference to a school like ours, so we would deeply appreciate it if you can share this information with others.

As you will have gathered, running a school like ours is incredibly complex, because we are dealing with multiple issues involving the care of vulnerable children, blind children and special-needs children with life-changing illnesses. We must make sure each child receives proper loving care and adult guidance, healthcare, nutrition and a thousand other things. We must provide a proper scholastic education and we have to follow up each child's progress, school attendance, homework, national exams and then guide them through life-choices.

We also work (a bit like the voice crying in the wilderness such are the challenges we face), with the preservation of traditional culture and performing arts and running different programs, helping talented students develop well, helping less-talented students just enjoy themselves and always keeping an eye on the overall shape and where we are going. Our older girls have also started vocational training at the weekends and our blind students receive computer lessons too.

We want to focus this year on providing much more childcare training to our staff, in partnership with other organisations. This is a very important work- in- progress part of our program and is ongoing. We are also focusing on assisting more blind children in Kampot Province and providing more outreach through free arts lessons to disadvantaged children in Kampot as well.

Thank you for reading and if appropriate and possible for sharing with others!

 

(Photograph by kind courtesy Steve Porte - permission given by KCDI student)

Links:

 
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