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Feb 19, 2019

Our Children!

Bath time for our cats! Photo courtesy Steve Porte
Bath time for our cats! Photo courtesy Steve Porte

Dear Friends and Supporters of our school,

Thank you for your most wonderful and kind support. This Christmas season we raised over $10,000 from your donations. This is quite amazing and incredibly helpful. We will use your donations to provide our children with food, clothing, medical care, transport to hospital, Braille materials, Braille teacher support, our childcare program and our traditional arts training program.

I have been at our school this January and would like to let you know how everyone is doing, most especially our children.

As you may remember, almost all of our children in residence have suffered severe trauma.

We have two sisters, the older of whom after their mother died was sold into slavery by their father and was neglected and physically abused by her "owners". Her younger sister has severe epilepsy requiring monthly treatment 137km away in the capital Phnom Penh. One child of ours lost her eye because her uncle hit her accross the face with a bamboo stick. Her parents disappeared into Thailand years ago when she was a baby and there has been no word from them since. Another little boy whose father disappeared while his mother was pregnant, nursed his dying mother until her death. Five children of ours all sisters with their little brother were abandoned by their abusive mother and their father who is a gambler put them in an orphanage where they were abused and neglected for years. Our blind children have also endured verbal abuse and isolation due to the profound ignorance of villagers and family members in their communities.

Having these children in our care, means that we also know their villages and rural districts in Kampot Province. Many people, too many, are dying from preventable diseases because of poverty and lack of expert medical care. None have clean drinking water and malnutrtion takes it's toll, with a high rate of tuberculosis causing death or lasting health problems post-treatment.

For two years some of our children were really quite (understandably) disturbed, suffering from post-traumatic stress, nightmares, anxiety, psychosis, behavioural problems, bed-wetting and so on. It is only now that a feeling of peace and stability has been found and real healing has begun. I cannot thank my staff enough for their dedication, patience and love.

One example is our classical dance teacher Madame Kim An who comes from Phnom Penh to teach Cambodian ballet. She is originally a dancer from the Royal Ballet and her knowledge and skill are renown. She of her own volition and love of our children takes complete care of our adolescent girls. She understood that they were quite wild and stood in danger of going down the wrong path and getting lost in life, because they had never had a mother figure to guide them in early childhood. Although we have other staff, it is at this moment that our adolescent girls need Madame An, with her kind, sensible firmness and good education and use of language. They have flourished under her guidance and are doing very well.

Our little children are also doing much better. I spent a lot of time with them listening to their accounts of their early childhood and working with them to find relief and let go of fear and pain. This is a continual process, but I have found that they are happier and more serene than before. I have shared my findings with our staff and will now work on other ways for us to give assistance and comfort to our children. In particular I will be assisting our folk dance teacher Mrs Vy Lyda to learn how to give childcare for their specific needs. In Cambodian culture there is no interpretation or specific words for psychological-emotional issues and so this is new territory. Mrs Lyda is a former student at our school whilst I was director there. She is now an adult, married with a young child and has founded her own dance and music troupe! As she grew up at our school, she has a closer understanding of the meaning of therapy and how trauma can affect behaviour.

In order to help all our children on the path of healing, we have decided not to take in any more new resident children for the moment. We need to keep the equilibrium our children have found, until they are sufficiently strengthened to cope with the challenges of a new child or children coming to our school.

However we have not forgotten the needs of those children who live in and near Kampot town who are desperately poor and in danger. I met with the head of the Department of Social Affairs to organise the assistance of several children who have no father and whose mother uses them for begging. They do not go to school because they are too poor. Our new project will include facilitating state school education, providing them with clothing and school uniforms, giving them meals and of course tuition in traditional Cambodian arts and then providing them with transport so that they may return to their mothers' in the evening. Our school together with the Deparment of Social Affairs will make an agreement with their mothers requesting that these children will not ever more be used for begging or other such activites.

Our Outreach program continues to expand. We have several children from local schools who attend traditional dance lessons and Mohori music lessons. We have a group of girls from the Lyceum who study Mohori music with Master Samouen. Additionally we have several youth with disabilities who come and study traditional singing.

Last month as part of the Kampot Arts Festival which we did in partnership with Epic Arts and which we hosted, we gave dance, music and shadow puppet making lessons to over two hundred school children. The organisation SVA also brought their mobile library.

Kampot town is currently in a bizarre situation which is difficult to know where it will lead. Thousands of expatriates have decided that this little town is ideal for their new home. Although there are some responsible and well behaved expatriates, unfortunately too many have alcohol and drug problems, as well as behavioural issues, whilst others are just culturally insensitive. The sheer numbers of foreigners (over seven thousand and counting) has created economic problems for the local population, pushing the price of goods, food, housing and so on to levels which are unreachable and untenable for ordinary Cambodians. There is now no longer any bar or restaurant along the river front that is Cambodian.  

Investors want to buy swathes of land towards Kep by the sea and turn it into luxury resorts. This would alienate local Cambodian people even more, so that it would become a Kampot within a Kampot. Following on from this, we are involved in meetings with the local Ministry of Tourism and other concerned agencies to find a way forward so that Kampot can have more measured levels of tourism, protecting the environment and making sure that Cambodian people are not pushed out of their own lands.

Very seriously the large number of foreigners of whom their past is unknown has raised concern. Local authorities know that there are foreign phedophiles and criminals in Kampot and they are very worried.  Our own staff are very gentle people and have had to learn very quickly that even foreigners wanting to "help" must not have any contact with our children and that we do not allow any volunteers at all. We have come accross some very unbalanced individuals and we have put into action several protective measures to protect our children and our school.

In January I held over the course of two evenings special Child Protection Workshops for our staff, based on International Child Safety Guidelines. This involved discussions on stranger danger, reinforced protection policies for our school, a deeper understanding of the UN Covenant on Children's Rights and the recapitulation of our own Child Protection Policy. We also covered childcare and hygiene standards for our school.

Additionally I met with local authorities to discuss concerns about child protection not just for our own children, but for all children in Kampot. I have also started coordinating with M'lop Tapeng from neighbouring Sihanoukville Province, who are experts on child protection. We are now organising extra workshops not only for our staff but also for police, school teachers, social workers in Kampot on child safety and identifying suspicious activity. We are also now in contact with APLE (and local police) in the eventuality of emergency intervention to save a child in danger and to request an arrest if necessary.

Our school has been very busy recently. The Kampot Arts Festival which lasted three days was hosted at our school including the opening and closing ceremonies. Her Excellency the Minister of Culture Phourng Sackona came on an official visit and was very pleased and supportive with our work. Additionally Uon Sambo our Pin Peat master and myself gave an interview in Khmer language for VDP radio in Phnom Penh about our school. We also visited the University of Fine Arts (near the Royal Palace) in Phnom Penh to reinforce our communication and friendship with the University and Cambodian music professors there. As Kampot is far away, it's quite important to keep contact, as our own arts professors come from the University of Fine Arts or the National Theatre. We also collected new shadow puppet making tools from the puppet masters Sovannah Phum.

We  began our documentary film project to show how the ancient art of shadow puppets still continues. The film maker Ian Wiggins and sound recorder Rob O'Hara are very kindly and generously assisting us with this project free of charge.

We are doing a project to raise funds to repair our main hall roof, as storm damage blew off roof tiles and there is leakage. This micro-project on Globalgiving has now closed but anyone wanting to help us can give on our main project link.

Very sadly the wife of our director passed away last week and so we are all in mourning. We loved her very much and we miss her a great deal. Our hearts go out to our dear director Mr Sothy and his wife's family for their loss.

On a happier note the first photograph of our report is of two of our girls who have just given a bath to their beloved cats. Our children really love their animals and this photo captures beautifully the joy and the laughter that reverberates round our school.

Thank you for reading this report and thank you all once again for your extraordinary help!

Brother and Sister at KCDI. Photo Steve Porte
Brother and Sister at KCDI. Photo Steve Porte
Our blind boys in Concert: Photo Steve Porte
Our blind boys in Concert: Photo Steve Porte
Singing the National Anthem official concert
Singing the National Anthem official concert
Playing with the cat. Photo courtesy Steve Porte
Playing with the cat. Photo courtesy Steve Porte

Links:

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!

Links:

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:

 
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