Jun 3, 2016

The life of Loak Kru Samouen

Sharing a joke after playing the Tro Sau
Sharing a joke after playing the Tro Sau

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.

Teaching Blind Students Mohori music
Teaching Blind Students Mohori music
Making Traditional Shadow Puppets
Making Traditional Shadow Puppets

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Jun 3, 2016

Paying Homage to our Mohori Teacher

Making Traditional Khmer Shadow Puppets
Making Traditional Khmer Shadow Puppets

Dear Supporters,

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.

Some of his blind students
Some of his blind students
With the local Cham community
With the local Cham community

Links:


Attachments:
Mar 12, 2016

Proud to be a Cambodian Girl!

KCDI Students performance. Photo Steve Porte
KCDI Students performance. Photo Steve Porte

 

Dear friends of Kampot Traditional Music School,

 

Thank you so much for all your wonderful support! We are profoundly grateful. Did you know that your donations comprised over a third of our annual 2015 budget?! So thank you so much!!

I would like to bring your attention to a very serious problem in Cambodia and especially Southwestern Cambodia where our school is based. Still today in rural areas girls are seen as a comodity, are married while still adolescents, sent to work in factories or sold into sexual slavery.

Why is our school speaking about this? Because for twenty-two years we have been battling to keep our girls safe and make it possible for them to receive a higher education and a career. So many times little girls are given into our care by the local authorities, because they have either been abandoned or their parents are dead, nobody wants them, they are not "useful" and as such are discarded.

We take these little children, care for them and they receive their scholastic lessons, become good scholars, good musicians, wonderful dancers and become adolescents. As they flower into early woman-hood, so their distant relatives awake to the fact and suddenly want them back; But not to continue their studies or create a sustainable future, no, they want them back to use as cheap labour, to marry off for financial gain or to sell them.

In our other project report, (free arts education for 400 children cambodia) I have mentioned *Ani, who has a brilliant future ahead of her as a classical Cambodian ballet dancer and who is a lovely, intelligent girl. Coming from a home where her father abandoned her mother after Ani's birth, her mother suffers from severe mental illness and despite medical treatment she is a danger to Ani, which is why local authorities asked us to care for her. She is able to see her mother, but it is not safe for her to live in the same small hut as her mother and grandmother. Now her grandmother and her relatives want her back, but their intentions are very dubious and Ani may risk her life and certainly her future if she goes back. She is in danger of being sold. We have of course alerted the local authorities and village chief. Ani's  dilemna represents many other girls like her not only in our school, but all over Cambodia and especially Kampot Province.

Ani, like all our children, comes from a rural village in Kampot, Southwestern Cambodia. This area of Cambodia was a Khmer Rouge stronghold until the early 2000's and during the Khmer Rouge genocide it was known as the zone where the Khmer Rouge were at their most brutal, being led by Ta Mok, the "butcher" of Cambodia. Imagine the mind-set of villagers who have lived under the Khmer Rouge or even sympathised with them for thirty years and more! 

When we took into care orphaned children from remote villages we had to make sure that we got back into Kampot town before 3pm, otherwise we risked being captured by Khmer Rouge.

How can we reach across to people in remote villages, who have closed their minds against progress and see girls only as a comodity? Well we thought we could do so by using Traditional Shadow Puppet Theatre. This ancient art form is very popular, but died out in Kampot during the Khmer Rouge genocide and we revived it late last year. We plan to create a special story-line, songs and drama to portray the message that girls are a wonderful resource for society and the higher they study, the better their capabilities, the happier and more fulfilled they are, the more society can change for the better.

You can help us by joining our March 16th Bonus Fundraising Day on Global Giving. Beginning 09:00am Washington DC time, donations can be made using Credit Card or Paypal. Global Giving will pro-rate any matching funds based on the number of donations made that day, so the more donors the greater the chance of matching funds. Our aim is to raise $650 for our Shadow Puppet Project which will go towards the making of our own puppets, special lighting, hiring a van and meals for our students and teachers as they perform in the districts during the evening. We also need to raise a further $5000 for our blind children. At Christmas thanks to your wonderful generosity, we raised $5,000 which is amazing! Our goal was $10,000, so we have another $5,000 to go. We need to provide food, clothing, medicine, full-time care, Braille and music teachers for our blind children for the next six months.

To donate, please use this link www.globalgiving.org/projects/education-arts-orphan-disabled-children-cambodia

Please share and tell everyone about this campaign, it's so important!

Thank You.

 

*To protect our student's privacy, we have not revealed her real name.

Dance! KCDI student. Photo Steve Porte
Dance! KCDI student. Photo Steve Porte
Performance of Shadow Puppets KCDI Students
Performance of Shadow Puppets KCDI Students
This little deaf/blind boy needs special help
This little deaf/blind boy needs special help

Links:

 
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