Taking care of children is a life-long task, as any parent will know. Taking care of special-needs and orphaned children is an incredibly difficult and rewarding role.
Day to day care with all it's challenges, tears, pain, joy and satisfaction remains unseen to the outside world. No camera, no media, no hype can truly define the daily, hourly work of looking after young lives. Because it's such painstaking and slow work, it can't be measured in high numbered graphs and statistics and when children have grown up and become adults, the world has moved on.
It is thanks to people like you who do believe and do understand that this extraordinary work of caring for others can take place.
I would like to tell you all about Thiyeu who is our senior housemother and whose work and dedication are not "seen" in the wordly sense, but should be recognised.
Thiyeu comes from a very poor minority Muslim family. Although Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist, there is a small percentage of people who descend from the Kingdom of Champa which ran through the centre of Cambodia nearly a thosuand years ago and whose King was defeated by the King of Angkor. When Thiyeu was thirteen her father became sick with Tuberculosis. In those days there was no proper cure or free treatment, so Thiyeu gave up her education and began working in building-sites to earn money to pay for medicine for her father.
In 1994 when building our school, a construction worker asked to work at our school after construction had finished. Her name was Thiyeu and she became our cleaning lady. Shortly afterwards, (after several years of illness), much to her grief her father died and our school became her second family.
She was forced into an arranged marriage by family members which ended in disaster and so we took care of her ourselves. Noticing her talents and her quick mind, we offered to give her a formal education, because at the time she was illiterate. She quickly learned to read and write as well as maths. From there she grew and her multiple talents blossomed, until she became senior Housemother. She married again, this time of her own choice and the Imam came to our school with her future husband to ask me, then director, formal permission for the marriage, which was a great honour. Thiyeu now has two beautiful children aged 11 and 13. When they were born, she was able to bring her babies with her after maternity leave and nurse them and stay with them whilst at our school.
She recently undertook accountancy training, has taken a first aid course and will do nursing training with the Cambodian Red Cross in the near future.
Last year, when our little boy who had grade three HIV was seriously ill and his mother lay dying in hospital, it is Thiyeu who took care of them both, in an emotionally, physically and psychologically very taxing period. She also supervises our blind students, takes them to state school lessons and then picks them up again, bringing them back to our school. After being taught some physiotherapeutic exersises she now ensures that our blind children do these exercises reguarly to build up muscle strength.
When our blind and deaf boy first arrived at our school, so lost and distressed, it is Thiyeu who stayed with him until he could find trust in the people around him. She refused to go home and have a rest, even though of course it is her right. So her children came to stay with her at our school. As with all those who live and work at our school, she doesn't see her work as just a job, but as her family and her other home.
It is also Thiyeu who helped with the selection of a second housemother to provide assistance, knowing exactly what qualities are needed in this job. Our second housemother, an older woman who has also gone through much trial and tribulation, is also a marvellous person too. Now they share the care of our children with HIV, our little blind and deaf boy, our blind children and our orphaned children, one of whom has epilepsy.
Without Thiyeu and our other caring staff, our school could not exist as a care centre, but would only be an arts centre. Being both is exceptional and it is thanks to Thiyeu and to all those who work so hard and with such integrity at our school, that this is possible.
Here is a quote from a Child Behaviour Specialist Doctor from the University of Oregan, who visited our school early in 2016:-
"I was very positively impressed with the enthusiasm and committment of former residents (Now teachers), for their successes and the excellent English spoken. I was very touched by the progress of the little (blind and deaf) boy. His progress, as well as the genuine fondness with which he was treated by staff and other children. Overall the warmth of relationships amongst everyone there and the kindness and happiness expressed, were very impressive."
Thank You So Much for supporting our work.
If you would like to continue helping, please do so. If you would like to help with a specific project, please visit our homepage and look at the micro-projects currently running. We are currently raising funds for one of our children with HIV to have specialist treatment in Phnom Penh. We only have 80 days left, but his need is urgent. Please spread the word!
Dear friends and supporters of our school,
Thank you for your continued support and interest in our activities. We are so grateful for your kindness and generosity!
Normally our reports focus on our children and what's going on at our school. As you know we have multi-layered programs, we give scholastic education, full-time care and traditional Cambodian music and performing arts to blind children, orphaned children with HIV and orphaned children who have no-one left to care for them. We also give free arts training to four hundred children, including very disadvantaged children and deaf and disabled youth. Our programs also help girls and focus on their higher education.
But who are the marvelleous people who give all that care and training, who dedicate not just their teaching hours, but their lives to the care and education of so many children? One of them is Loak Kru Samoeun*. Loak Kru means "Master" and comes from the Sangskrit "Guru" , because older teachers are greatly respected in Cambodian society for the knowledge and skills they possess.
Loak Kru Samoeun was born in Srok Sau Kik in Kandal Province in 1946. He grew up in a farming family and his parents tended their rice-fields and grew vegetables and fruit. As an adolscent boy Loak Kru Samoeun fell in love with Mohori and Plein Ka music. Beautiful music played on different string instruments and dating back a thousand years. He studied from the elderly musicians near his village and within a very short space of time he became a gifted musician and began working on a professional level, performing at ceremonies and weddings all through the Sihanouk era and the Lon Nol regime, until US B 52 carpet bombings and Khmer Rouge guerilla incursions forced him and many others to flee to near Phnom Penh.
On April 17th 1975 when the capital Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, the entire population of the city and indeed towns and cities all over Cambodia, were forced to leave their homes in a gigantic exodus, including the sick, wounded and the elderly and infirm. Loak Kru Samouen and other young Cambodians like himself made their way back to their villages of origin. Avoiding Khmer Rouge patrols, they cut accross the countryside and to survive picked fruit and vegetables from the abandoned fruit and vegetable gardens. He was captured by the Khmer Rouge along with ten other Cambodians and blind-folded and his hands and legs tied and put in a boat and taken up river to a Khmer Rouge prison where he was held for a month. Each day the Khmer Rouge interrogated prisoners and those who had worked for the previous regime, or who were doctors, teachers, engineers or people from Phnom Penh, were led away and executed. Loak Kru Samoeun survived because he came from a farmer family and not an educated intellectual background. He was eventually released and allowed back near his village where he was put to forced labour.
First he was made to plough fields with oxen, but his slender frame and lack of food made it difficult for him to physically resist the effort and he was then whipped and beaten and sent to work in giant vegetable gardens. Together with six others he had to tend six hectares of land, going back and forth from the Mekong River to water (with only watering cans) all the fruit and vegetables on the huge plot of land. Starving from lack of nutrition and given only gruel, he, as all other Cambodians were forbidden on pain of death to pick vegetables or fruit, catch fish, or even eat lizards, mice and frogs. The "New people", those originally from the cities and towns were targeted by the Khmer Rouge and were executed in large numbers together with their families, including babies. Again Loak Kru Samoeun despite being a musician, was lucky enough to be considered a farmer and though ill and starving was not specifically targeted by the Khmer Rouge, nor were his parents, although many family members died of starvation and disease.
When finally the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and after ferious battles the Khmer Rouge fled into their mountain and jungle bases, the Cambodian people could return to their homes and try and find their loved ones. A third of the population perished and every family lost someone, some as many as nineteen family members, even King Sihanouk.
Nintey-percent of Cambodian artists died, most executed, including popular artists and traditional ones. It is said that the much loved singer Sim Sissomath was forced to dig his own grave before being executed and Prince Sihamoni's dancing partner, the beautiful daughter of Yeah Khan was decapitated. In 1981, as one of the few survivors, Loak Kru Samoeun was called by the Cambodian Government to come to Phnom Penh and teach at the Royal University of Fine Arts and be a performer at the National Theatre. There were no proper salaries at the beginning, but he was paid in rice and food and together with a scattering of artists, he pieced together their lost heritage.
He married and had a son and is now a proud grandfather.
In 1990 and 1991, when the founder of the school (Catherine) came on request of the Dean of the Royal University of Fine Arts to teach violin in the Western Music Department, Loak Kru Samoeun saw her and their paths crossed, although neither would know at the time that Catherine would build a school in Southwestern Cambodia and that Loak Kru Samoeun would come and teach there!
Loak Kru Samoeun was formally invited to come to our school in 1997 and was granted permission by the Ministry of Culture and National Theatre to do so.
I wanted to tell this story in hommage to this lovely, humble and greatly talented man and wonderful human being. Dear Loak Kru Samoeun who has taught so painstakingly and patiently many many students, all of whom love and respect him and who with great skill and insight has taught our blind children to perform at a very high level, that they may have a future as professional musicians too.
Thank You Loak Kru Samoeun from the bottom of our hearts!
* In respect for his privacy I have refrained from writing his full name.
Thank you for thinking of our school and providing so much generous support. We send you our heartfelt greeting and thanks from Kampot!
This month I would like to dedicate both project reports to one very special staff member. All our staff are Cambodian and each person is special, doing much more than just looking after our children or teaching, but really working with great integrity and a lot of love.
It can be quite challenging to work at our school:- We care for blind children, a little blind and deaf boy, orphaned children with HIV and orphaned children who have no-one left to care for them, we also give free arts training to four hundred local children, some very disadvantaged and some with physical and mental disabilities.
Today I would like to pay our respect and honour a very special teacher - Loak Kru Samoeun*. He is our Mohori ad Plein Ka teacher and has been with us for nearly twenty years!
Born in 1946 in Kandal Province to a farming family, Loak Kru Samoeun became fascinated with Cambodian music in his teens. He then studied Mohori music with the elderly musicians near his village, quickly learning both this beautiful music form and it's relation Plein Ka (Wedding Music). Traditional music dating back to the empire of Angkor, a thousand years ago. He became a professional musician, performing at ceremonies and weddings in the Province of Kandal. This happy period was during the Sihanouk era, but disturbances began when General Lon Nol gained power in a coup and fighting erupted between government forces and Khmer Rouge Maoist guerillas.
Loak Kru Samoeun was forced to flee along with many others when US B 52 bombers carpet-bombed central Cambodia and Khmer Rouge fighting erupted. Living near Phnom Penh, Loak Kru Samoeun was once more forced to flee when the Khmer Rouge gained complete control over Cambodia and entered the capital Phnom Penh on 17th April 1975. The entire population of the capital, along with towns and cities all over Cambodia were forced out of their homes. Even the sick and the wounded lying in hospitals were pushed out on their beds, anyone found left behind was shot. Children got seperated from their parents and people died by the wayside as the mass exodus into the countryside began.
Loak Kru Sameoun together with other young Cambodians, cut through the countryside trying to avoid Khmer Rouge patrols and living off fruit and vegetables from abandoned gardens. They were finally captured by the Khmer Rouge, blindfolded and their hands and legs tied and put on a boat and taken to a prison. Prisoners were interogated daily and anyone found having worked formally for the olde regime, or who had worked as a doctor, engineer, teacher or educated person, was led away and executed. Loak Kru Samoeun survived despite being a musician, because he had not worked much in Phnom Penh, but came from a farming family in rural Cambodia. After one month's imprisonment he was freed and made to go back to hsi birthplace to forced-labour there.
First made to till the fields with oxen, he was beaten by the Khmer Rouge because his thin, small frame was not adapted to the physical strength needed to plough. He was then made to form a group of six and take care of an enormous vegetable plot of six hectares. Armed only with watering cans, with no rest and no proper solid food, under a burning sun, for three years he went back and forth from the Mekong river to water the huge piece of land. Although his parents survived, being themselves farmers, they were stripped of their land and forbidden to eat their own produce. The Khmer Rouge made everyone eat communally a rice gruel, punishing by death anyone who dared to pick fruit, vegetables or catch fish for themselves or their families. People tried to survive by eating raw lizard and mice as they worked in the fields, but this was also punishable by death.
When Vietnam invaded Cambodia and in 1979 chased the Khmer Rouge back to their remote strongholds in the mountains and jungles, the Cambodian people were free to try and find their homes and see if any of their loved ones had survived. Of a pre-war population of 6.8 million, up to 3 million were killed, executed or died of starvation and disease. Every family in Cambodia lost members and not one family remained in tact.
Ninety-percent of Cambodian artists, both popular and traditional were killed. Some famous singers were exectued at the very beginning and beautiful dancers were decapitated. Only seven great music masters and five famous ballerinas survived.
Loak Kru Samoeun was called by the Cambodian Government in 1981 to come and help teach in Phnom Penh at the Royal University of Fine Arts and perform at the National Theatre. All surviving artists were called to help re-build their heritage and piece together using their memories this once great culture. Music and dance was not written down and artists had to try and remember despite their trauma and piece together their knowledge to re-create their cultural and artistic heritage. Happily Loak Kru Samoeun also married and has a son and grandchildren.
In 1990 - 94, (Catherine) the founder of the Kampot Traditional Music School - Khmer Cultural Development Institute, went to teach violin at the Royal University of Fine Arts by request of the Dean, because there were not enough teachers left alive. Loak Kru Samoeun saw Catherine as a young girl and their paths crossed, but neither knew that later on she would build a school in Southwestern Cambodia and that he would come and teach there! In those days there was still civil war and life was very difficult, few foreigners ventured to Cambodia and artists knew each other.
In 1997, Loak Kru Samoeun was officially invited to teach on the Mohori and Plein Ka program at the school and permission was granted by the Ministry of Culture and National Theatre.
I would like to take this unique opportunity to honour and thank Loak Kru Samoeun for all he has done and is doing for our school. For the love and care, infinite skill and patience and for his humanity and gentle nature through all these years. Today he also teaches our blind children and has imparted in them the skills to become professional musicians.
Thank You Loak Kru Samoeun!
* Out of respect for his privacy, I have not given his full name.