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May 17, 2019

Lyda sets up her own Dance Company

Lyda and Catherine Geach (founder) in main hall
Lyda and Catherine Geach (founder) in main hall

Dear Friends and Kind Supporters of our School,

Thank you for your wonderful help these last three months and to all those who so generously give each month.

You may wonder what happens to our former students when they graduate from our school. Well one boy Sameth who had lost both legs to an anti-personnel mine and who graduated in 2002, won both a scholarship to Thailand and then to Switzerland. He is now married with two children and a manger of a resort in Siem Reap. Sambo who also graduated in 2002 went to University in Phnom Penh before working at the National Theatre and Royal Palace as a Pin Peat musician. He now works at our school part-time whilst working at the Department of Culture in Kampot. He also specialises in research of minority artists and assisting Pin Peat musicians in the Province of Kampot to further their skills. Mao became a Pin Peat teacher and teaches in her district in Chumkiri. Saveth worked first for the Ministry of Culture and worked on a notation project to document traditional Cambodian music to prevent it from being lost. She now works in the Council of Ministers. The list goes on. Some former students went to teaching college and are teachers with a speciality in the arts, others decided to be farmers, accountants, technicians and most have married and have children. A very few sadly got lost on the way, but most have built their own lives and are well.

How about Lyda? Lyda came to our school in around 1997. First came her older sister Di in 1994, then Lyda who was the youngest and then Ngèth who was the oldest of all. He walked to our school when the Khmer Rouge were still active and the police took care of him and fed him when he came to a checkpoint. He decided to come when his granny wanted him to stay at home. They lost their father when they were very small, then their mother disappeared for many years, during which time the children came to our school. She then returned out of the blue. The children were then able to re-establish loving contact with her, but less than a year after her return she got sick and died. We nursed her in hospital, but alas there was nothing the doctors could do.

Lyda is a lovely, mischevous person and full of fun. We still remind each other when she rolled Sameth's wheelchair into the fish pond. Luckily Sameth wasn't in it at the time. 

She is (like her brother and sister), extremely talented. Di after graduating from University now teaches dance for a local NGO in Chumkriel and Ngèth performs in a jazz band as well as working with Lyda. But Lyda is the one who is full of courage. She formed her own Dance Company which not only teaches local children in her village, but also as an accomplished singer, she sings while her brother performs the stringed Tro in weddings and exhibitions. They are becoming more and more successful. Lyda manages the bookings both for dance performances and music, as well as managing the other artists attached to the company. She is married and has a lovely little son aged three. 

Lyda also works part-time at our school as our Folk Dance Teacher. She is an excellent choreographer and is loved by us all. She regards our elderly Mohori music teacher Loak Kru Samouen as a father and comes to him for advice on all aspects of Mohori and Wedding music. Mohori music is used to accompany Folk Dance as well.

Our director Mr Sothy gave Lyda and her husband (when they were newly weds) the use of his countryside cabin to live in and he paid for their electiricty and water until such time as they were self-sufficient. 

Lyda's students recently performed during the visit by Her Excellency the Minister of Culture Phourng Sackona to our school and also during the opening ceremony of the Kampot Arts Festival in January 2019.

One of my favourite photos is one taken in January of this year when Lyda has come back from perfoming in a wedding, she is very tired, but is her usual optimistic, hilarious self and she and I are sitting for a chat during a pause at our school during Folk Dance lessons. The photographer Steve Porte took it quietly without us noticing! He comes from time to time and with everyone's permission goes round and takes photographs of our daily life. 

Just a quick note about our main hall roof. After raising some funds, but unfortunately not all the sum we needed on our GlobalGiving microproject, we have at last begun to repair our roof. We had to order tiles from Vietnam as Cambodia does not make them anymore. After interviewing nearly ten construction companies, we at last found one willing to scale the roof and to wear protective ropes etc; I also did raise a little funds in the UK in a concert in Leominster in April. Those donors who gave support towards our roof will be receiving their project report in the next few days.


* The full names of former students are not given in order to protect their privacy.

** Our thanks to Steve Porte for his beautiful photographs. The third photo was taken in 2000 before we knew Steve!

Some of Lyda's students perform at KAF ceremony
Some of Lyda's students perform at KAF ceremony
Lyda on the right and Di on the left in 2000
Lyda on the right and Di on the left in 2000


Mar 4, 2019

Project Report/Free-Arts-Training-Children-Cambodia #13106

Two Hundred Children visit Our School
Dear Friends and Donors,
Thank you so much for your wonderful help and generosity. We deeply appreciate your support!
In January we hosted the "Kampot Arts Festival" in coordination with our festival partners, Epic Arts. One of the events was a series of workshops held at our school (KCDI). Over two hundred children came to participate and our school was just buzzing with energy and excitement. 
The children divided themselves into groups and took turns in trying out the traditional arts, such as classical Cambodian dance, Folk dance, Yike dance, how to make leather Shadow Puppets and how to play Mohori music. The traditional workshops were held by our teachers at KCDI. Contemporary dance and face-painting were taught by Epic Arts, while SVA prepared a mobile library under the shade of the trees in our garden. These kinds of workshops are important for young Cambodians to get to know their artistic heritage, especially after the destruction by the Khmer Rouge and the deaths of so many people during the genocide. Cambodia is also currently facing the challenges of rapid Westernisation and mass tourism, which is threatening to wipe-out ancient cultural traditions, as well as creating further economic hardships for a large percentage of the population who live in rural areas.  Our school is dedicated to the care of very vulnerable children and the preservation of the traditional arts for future generations of Cambodians.
Not only do we teach the traditional arts on a daily basis to local, impoverished children, we also do large workshops, so that as many children and youth as possible can have a go and get to know their cultural heritage. These workshops often result in children coming afterwards and with permission from their parents, continuing with their favourite art-form on our Outreach Program, which you so kindly sponsor.
Through the years our school has taught very poor children from Chumkriel and Tray Koh villages. These former alumni have grown up now and some are themselves professional musicians and teachers. We have taught classical dance to girls from Samdech Ta Primary school and taught the arts to over four hundred children from Di Pok State school. We also teach Mohori music to disabled youth and also a group of girls from the local Lycée. We taught traditional music for over a year to disabled students from Epic Arts. We also help liaise and care for those children who are very poor and who sometimes need a meal or other support. Much of this has been possible with your kind donations. Thank you.
Our Outreach Program is the second of our main programs. Our first main program is for Residential Children and details of this program can be found on GlobalGiving (Education-Arts-Orphaned-Disabled-Children-Cambodia). On our Residential Program, we take full-time care of children who have no parents and nobody who can take care of them. Many of these children have been abused and neglected by extended family and have been placed into our care by local authorities. Some of them have life-changing illnesses and injuries. We also provide rehabilitation and care to blind children in coordination with their families and the authorities. Both able-bodied and disabled children receive complete care at our school from infant school until university level. Those who have a safe family link are able to visit their families regularly. We follow International Child Safety Guidelines and all our work is done in close coordination with the Department of Social Affairs, as well as the Ministries of Education and Culture for both our academic and cultural programs.
In order to assist more children through our Outreach Program, I met with the director of the Kampot Department of Social Affairs last month, to discuss our new project, which is to reach out and give substantial support to very vulnerable children who live with single mothers and whose current life circumstances put them at great risk. Some of these children beg in order to survive and don’t go to school, because they are too poor. We will be providing them with food, clothing, school uniforms, school books and stationary, facilitating state school education and of course free arts training, as therapy and vocational training. In the late afternoons we will then provide transport for them to go back to their mothers in their villages. I will keep you informed about this project.
In our world today, we often underestimate the importance of the arts as an essential form of healing and a higher form of human expression. The arts are always the first to be cut from government budgets and many people consider culture a waste of time, without  ever having the opportunity to learn about it’s benefits. Many people’s goals are to earn a lot of money and climb up the social ladder.  They may go through their lives never knowing that the essential things of life cannot be bought.
From personal experience in teaching Mohori music at a rehabilitation centre near Phnom Penh,  I have watched war-injured ex-soldiers recover a sense of dignity and smile again just by learning a musical instrument. My own experiences as a professional musician has allowed me to have the privilege to play not only for a large public, but to bring joy to people with Alzheimer and to quietly sing to dear friends who are dying and who at their request want to hear a beautiful song to relieve them from fear and pain.
In our rush to get through life, we forget that we have been given the gift of music, dance and visual arts to express our higher selves and bring peace and something very special to not only ourselves, but to those around us.
So thank you for helping so many children receive free arts training and for being part of a bigger picture, where young people can learn not only about their heritage, but benefit in immeasurable ways from participating in music, dance and theatre lessons.
Author: Catherine Louise Geach
Position: Founder
Address: 1, Ousaphea, Kampong Bay, Kampot, Kingdom of Cambodia
Facebook. Official Facebook Page:
1)Neark Kru An Teaching Visiting Children Traditional Cambodian Dance: Photo courtesy of KCDI
2) Children learn ancient Yike dance with Neark Kru Savorn (KCDI)
3) Learning how to make Traditional Shadow Puppets
Mobile Library run by SVA in our Garden (KCDI)
Mohori Music Workshop with Loak Kru Samouen (KCDII
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


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