Dear friends and supporters of our school,
Thank you so much for your kind and important support. We appreciate it so much.
We have been making important changes to our free arts training program and we would like you to know what we have changed and why.
As you know we were providing free arts training to hundreds of children and teenagers from local state schools, in particular the Di Pok state school and Samdech Ta' school. This was part of a program requested by the Ministries of Education and Culture to teach as many young Cambodians as possible about their traditional culture. This is considered an important area for conservation, because of the loss and damage done to cultural heritage during the Khmer Rouge genocide between 1975-79.
Our teaching staff dedicated hours each week for several years teaching local school children traditional music, Yike and dance. However our staff decided that this program was not working well and not bringing the right results.
Because the students were given to us without taking into consideration their capacities. So we had many students who were not talented and therefore quite bored with studying, not because they didn't like the arts, but because they couldn't really improve as they didn't have the talent necessary. Some of the wealthy students were even quite naughty and more interested in their cellphones. Our teachers, some of whom survived the genocide are quite old and found these kinds of lessons exhausting and fruitless. We concluded that although we had helped reach out to many children in Kampot and had given a generation of young people knowledge about their cultural heritage, we were not really preserving traditional culture which is one of our vision and mission elements and we were not able to concentrate on those children who really wanted to learn and who were often from poorer backgrounds.
What did we do?
We went back to the beginning. We went back to our original Outreach program of helping poor and disadvantaged children from local villages who demonstrated talent and a true desire to learn. You may be wondering why not reaching out to hundreds of students and only teaching around one hundred / one hundred and fifty students would be considered preserving traditional culture...... This is because traditional Cambodian arts have been passed down orally from master to pupil for the last one thousand years. They were not written down and only now attempts have made to record music and dance for future generations. Cambodian music has survived for example because it was used in Pagodas for traditional Buddhist ceremonies, for classical dance, for weddings and for funerals. Musicians (except for the Chapey players) work in ensembles and perform for these ceremonies. It is a living art and is preserved for future generations when young Cambodians learn how to play instruments properly to a professional level. The same applies to the Yike and traditional dance.
Today we are teaching really poor children and adolescents, some with disabilities. All love their lessons, work hard and have the capacity to become tomorrow's professional artists. Many of them come from families affected by alcoholism and gambling addictions and the arts for them is the only way out of poverty and destitution.
We will be changing the title of our project soon and updating our information, but we wanted to share the changes with you first.
Dear friends and supporters of our school,
Thank you so much for your incredibly generous participation of our Year-End Campaign. Your participation has been so important and has helped us enormously. In this project report, I would like to describe to you one of our programs which you have supported.
The Yike is an ancient art form, which originates from a fusion of the Khmer and the Chhampa Empires, dating back to around the fourteenth century. Today the descendants of the Kingdom of Champa are known as the Chham and probably were related to Malay people. Their religion is Islam and they are now a minority in Buddhist Cambodia.
Around nine hundred years ago, through the centre of what is now modern-day Cambodia there was the Kingdom of Chhampa. The Khmer kings of Angkor were often at war with the Kings of the Chham, but their close proximity meant an inevitable cultural exchange. Later the Kingdom of Chhampa was assimilated into Cambodia. The epic battles between the two kingdoms can be seen on the famous carvings and bas-reliefs of the temples of Angkor Wat.
The art of Yike is very similar to the Chham people's music and dance, but Yike in it's original pure form is practiced by very few Cambodians and is an art which is in danger of dying out.
The Yike combines, music using the large Yike drum, song, dance and theatre. Many of the songs are ancient poems with words long-forgotten in Cambodia. Our school has the honour to have in residence for the last seventeen years, two of the last greatest Yike masters in Cambodia who are regarded as national treasures. Master Loak Kru Bèm and his wife Master Neark Kru Savorn* are from Chhouk District and their Yike troupe is famous.
Both of them survived the Khmer Rouge genocide and the war, because they were told to take care of the Khmer Rouge fisheries in high lakes far from the oppressive mass labour camps where the majority of Cambodians were rigidly controlled and executed. However they faced a lot of danger when the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed and Khmer Rouge leaders retreated to their mountain bases in Kampot. The district of Chhouk and neighbouring Chumkiri came under constant fire, guerilla warfare and attacks on the civilian population. The Khmer Rouge factions were in competition with one another and one faction decided to execute Loak Kru Bèm for being a Yike musician. In great fear, he decided to go and see the most powerful Khmer Rouge leader of the area, who dominated both factions, to ask for clemency. The leader in question hearing Loak Kru Bèm play, said that he could not see anything wrong with the music and that Loak Kru Bèm, his wife and family should be left in peace.
Not only do Loak Kru Bèm and Neark Kru Savorn teach Yike at our school for both our residential children and impoverished children from local villages, they are also devoted carers and counsellers to our children. Loak Kru Bèm takes great care of our large garden and both give so much more than is normally required of a teacher. They truly love our children and have profound concern for their welfare. They are sensitive and kind to our little blind and deaf boy, who loves playing the drums because he can feel the vibrations and they encourage him to experiment with the instruments and even to dance. Both masters have prepared special performances with our students and we have together won two national prizes in the capital Phnom Penh and recorded a CD.
You can watch them on our short film posted on our project page. You will understand what special people they are and how honoured and grateful we are to have them at our school. Because of your wonderful and generous help, we are able to support the Yike program and the great benefits it brings both to our children and to keeping alive the ancient, cultural heritage of Cambodia.
* Loak Kru means Master (male) Neark Kru means Master (female). We have not given their full names to protect their privacy.
Where we come from
Beyond our program to help orphaned children, (some affected with HIV and epilepsy) and our blind children, we also help very poor children and youth from local villages on the outskirts of Kampot.
Many of our village children come from very difficult circumstances, not only because they are poor and some of their parents have gone to Thailand to earn a living, but because many have family-members who are addicted to alcohol and to gambling. Many of Kampot's youth within the town are addicted to drugs and to glue-sniffing, because this is a society which has broken down after one of the 20th century's worst genocides. The Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot from 1975 - 79 forced the entire population into the countryside, creating vast concentration camps. There were no hospitals, medicine, clean drinking water, mosquito nets, nor sufficient food. Thousands perished from disease and starvation and thousands more were tortured and put to death, until a pre-war population of 6.8 million lost nearly a third of the populace. Adults suffering from Post-traumatic stress have never had relief and the Cambodian government has never really bothered to promote the truth or create reconciliation, because some of their top members are former Khmer Rouge.
Why should the arts, especially music be of importance when children are poor or after a genocide?
Because music and the arts can express that which words cannot.
When a person has difficulty expressing their grief, frustration or anger they can speak through music or dance. When a child is faced with poor role-models and a crumbling society, then coming to learn music and art to a very high level is like a beacon of hope and light for them. Music and art can actually lift depression and anxiety and is good for mental health as well as emotional well-being.
The children and youth from local villages come when it's raining or when the weather is fine and they study really hard, they want to be artists and they want to be professionals. Already the older, teenagers help our Pin Peat master perform for religious occasions in the Pagoda and have begun earning money and the older Mohori students can assist their master to perform at weddings.
When we do our Traditional Shadow Puppet performances, they assist us with our Pin Peat music. Recently we hosted the Official Ceremony of the International Kampot Writers and Readers Festival and our students came to help our resident students in the important performances we had to give.
Finally, because Cambodia's ancient cultural heritage was so badly destroyed, teaching it to the next generation helps preserve it. Modernization is good, but keeping one's cultural identity is good too.