Mar 11, 2016

Changing Hearts and Minds about Girl's Education

Proud to be a Cambodian girl! Photo by Steve Porte
Proud to be a Cambodian girl! Photo by Steve Porte

 

Dear friends of Kampot Traditional Music School,

Thank you so much for your fantastic support. Here is our latest report and appeal for you to read and share.

We have been running our school for twenty-two years and have worked for a long time with girls and boys who have lost their parents, or who live in vulnerable circumstances and who come from rural Southwestern Cambodia. How many battles we have fought to protect our girls in the face of ignorance and discrimination.

This is one of our stories, but it reflects so many girls who have been at our school and everywhere in this part of Cambodia. Ani* came to our school as a little girl. Her father had disappeared and her mother suffered from a serious mental illness making it too dangerous for her to stay in the little hut together with her mother and grandmother. Despite medical treatment her mother has not been able to improve much and for Ani's safety she cannot spend long periods with her mother, although she visits her and has regular news of her. The situation for Ani is very distressing, because of the nature of her mother's illness and the unpredictability and violence involved.

Nobody wanted Ani in her village when she was little and her grandmother unable to cope asked local authorities to help her grandaughter and that is how we began caring for Ani. Today Ani is a beautiful fourteen year old girl doing very well both with her scholastic education, but also a wonderful classical Cambodian ballet dancer. She has danced at important national festivals and competitions and her dance teacher has said that if she wants she can to ballet school (university level) at the Royal University of Fine Arts when she has finished her Baccalareuate final scholastic exams in a few years. Ani is still a young girl, has a large teddy on her bed and likes drawing, reading and being with her friends. She has her whole future before her and we really want to protect her.

Suddenly pressured by people in their village, Ani's grandmother wanted her back again. Not in order to send her to school in her village or for the company, no, to marry early and to work. Ani said "No" and together with local authorities so did we say "No".  

This is typical of remoter rural village attitudes where girls are destined for child marriages, labour in factories and tragically, sexual slavery. Higher education has no place in the minds of many village people, for them a girl must be used while she is young and still attractive. Southwestern Cambodia, especially Kampot was a Khmer Rouge stronghold until the early 2000's. The Khmer Rouge exterminated over two million people, a third of the population. They were particularly barbaric in Kampot under the leadership of "Ta Mok", known as the "Butcher of Cambodia". Extraordinarily uncivilised thinking; the abolition of doctors, schools, engineers, teachers, artists and all known infrastructure brought Cambodia to primative levels and the genocide of Cambodia was also known as "Year Zero".  So imagine what the mentality is like of many people in rural areas once controlled by or loyal to Khmer Rouge guerillas!?

Just think what we have faced all these years, especially in the early days when there was still a civil war going on and when we found children in need of protection, we had to make sure to be out of villages and off the main road by three in the afternoon, otherwise we risked being captured and killed by the Khmer Rouge.

How to address such closure and rigidity of thinking? How to move forward in a peaceful, enlightened way?

Well we thought we would create a special Shadow Puppet Theatre to tell the story of the importance of girl's education. Shadow Puppet Theatre is a much loved art in Cambodia and was wiped out in Kampot during the Khmer Rouge regime. We have now revived it at our school and we will use it to promote  education and tolerance. Please help us make this dream a reality by funding our project.

It will cost a little over $650 to make the leather puppets ourselves, make special portable lighting, hire a van to take us to rural areas and feed our children and staff when they perform in the late evening.

How and when to help? Please join our special March 16th Bonus Day on Global Giving donating to this project at 09:00 Washington DC time using either Credit card or Paypal.

Remember to give early on the 16th, the more donors we have, the more possibility there is to win a Bonus. Here's our link 

www.globalgiving.org/projects/free-arts-training-for-400-children-in-cambodia

If you have any doubts or questions you can contact Global Giving and their wonderful team will help you.

Let's celebrate the girls from our school who did make it and who have become doctors, economists, professional musicians, dancers, business leaders and wonderful mothers!

Thank You for your Support.

*Ani is not her real name. To protect her identity we have not revealed her true name.

Making shadow puppets
Making shadow puppets
Relax and Painting time
Relax and Painting time
Shadow puppet performance
Shadow puppet performance

Links:

Feb 22, 2016

A Very Special Friendship

Having a chat
Having a chat

 

 

Dear friends of Kampot Traditional Music School - Khmer Cultural Development Institute,

Thank you all so much for your generous support this last month. We are so grateful for your help.

Three weeks ago, we received into our care a little deaf and blind boy aged five. He had been found by local people abandoned in the Kampot taxi rank, having been put on a taxi by an unknown person from another destination. He was severely malnourished and covered in sores. Investigation by local authorities revealed that his mother was blind and his father also blind had abandoned them at the child's birth. The mother did not want to care for her son anymore and when asked whether he was her son, she replied "How would I know, I can't see him". She refused to take him back and asked that he be put in a care centre.

The little boy had no name and was placed in a temporary shelter, but the shelter had no expert care or possibility to teach him sign language or Braille. However the shelter gave him the name *Somnang which means "Lucky" in Cambodian.

When he came to our school, he was feeling completely lost and moaned and cried. Our housemother immediately began bonding with him and in a very short time, he recognised her by touching her face and began recognising other people at our school too, by touching their hands or face. Somnang had always refused solid foods and so his stools were unhealthy and he was anaemic. Our housemother began feeding him rice, meat and vegetables and Somnang began eating them and his health improved and his stools became normal. Not knowing night from day, he was awake all night and is still undergoing medical checks to help understand why he sleeps so little. 

Not being able to see and being deaf meant that he was isolated in his own world. Using the system that Miss Sullivan used for Helen Keller when she lost her sight and hearing, the founder of our school taught our housemother and other staff special touch language, because there is no precedent in Cambodia for blind and deaf training together. For example taking his little hand and helping him touch water and then touching his housemother's mouth while she says "Water" in Cambodian - (Khmer) language. Using this system we are gradually teaching him about the world that surrounds him. It is a very long and painstaking task and our housemother and other staff are indeed very special people because of the love and patience they are able to transmit. Later on he will learn some sign language written within his hand and also of course Braille. We think that he might be able to hear something and so we will take him to an ear specialist (NGO) in Phnom Penh to see if we can help him further. Now he plays with his ball, giant letters, rattles and play dough and now and then he has a play on some of our music instruments. We will develop musical training because apart from hearing using his ears, he is able to hear through the vibrations through his body.

Somnang no longer cries or whimpers, but happily moves about and feels more secure now. He has also made a very special friendship. Perhaps you will remember our other little boy who suffered so much because his parents died of AIDS and his mother after months of pain, passed away last June leaving her son at our school. This little boy suffered anxiety attacks and had moments of hysteria, because of what he had endured. Gradually he is feeling better, is much happier and has put on weight, so that the HIV doctors who check his health and well-being each month, clapped their hands with joy the other day. Well, he has made great friends with Somnang and calls him his "Little brother". He adores him, playing with him, passing him tasty snacks and taking care of him. He chats away even though Somnang cannot hear him. Somnang feels his presence and is very happy too.  At night they share the same bed and our housemother sleeps nearby to make sure both are well and safe. Taking Retrovirus treatment, means that HIV is no longer active in his body and not contagious and it is perfectly safe for them to play together. As a precaution though he has his own bowl, spoon and cup, but that is as a responsible measure towards others, rather than true necessity.

For the sake of privacy of course we cannot reveal their full names. 

Did you know that we have 22 children living at our school full time, of whom nearly half are blind? We have many challenges to face in housing them all, providing specialised care for their different needs, expert training in Braille, special staff to care for them and of course our wonderful arts teachers who have been the heart and soul of our school for the last 22 years. Yet did you know that it has been so difficult to find funding, although we must feed, clothe, provide medical care, scholastic eductation and vocational arts training for all these our children and assist nearly 400 children with free arts lessons, including local deaf and disabled youth. We are the only arts centre of this calibre in Southwestern Cambodia and the only specialised care and vocational training centre for blind children in Kampot. Your donations are so precious for us. Thank you. Please tell others about our school too!

Together with their housemother and two teachers
Together with their housemother and two teachers
A music lesson for our older children
A music lesson for our older children

Links:

Jan 28, 2016

A new hope

Learning the Takhe and the Skor
Learning the Takhe and the Skor

Dear friends and supporters of our school,

 

Thank you so much for your wonderful support and continued kindness and generosity towards us. We would like to share our latest news to keep you in touch with how our school is developing.

As you know we have four hundred local children who come for free music, dance and Yike lessons during the week. Being so many, their classes are divided into different times, so that all can get a chance to learn about their cultural heritage. For those children who are extremely talented and have an interest beyond an extra-currcular art activity, we help them on our Scholarship Program. These students come from very difficult backgrounds and need extra support in the way of food, medical care and sometimes to be able to sleep at our school. There are many social problems in poorer areas associated with alcohol, gambling and substance abuse due to post-traumatic stress in adults from the genocide and war era.

Last year as you know, we opened our doors to providing free Mohori music lessons to blind children. This quickly developed and as their shelter closed down, these children with the consent of their parents, local authorities and the children themselves, came to live at our school. We now employ Braille teachers and the children have a special housemother to care for their needs. Now that local authorities know we have a program for blind children, they have begun identifying other children in need and bringing them to our school. We would like to share with you a true story of one of our most recent arrivals, so that you can understand how it really is in rural Cambodia.

A representative from the Department of Social Affairs asked us last November whether we could assist a little boy. His mother was blind. Whilst working at a rehabilitation centre she had an affair with a blind man and became pregnant. After the birth of her son, her companion denied all responsibility and negated paternity of the baby. A few years passed and she then went to work at an NGO in Sihnoukville (Southern Cambodia).

One day late last year, a young boy of five was found in the Kampot taxi rank, covered in sores, starving and filthy. He also had been born without eyes. He said his mother had put him in a taxi from Sihanoukville and sent him over a hundred kilometres way to Kampot by himself. He knew no one in Kampot and being blind was unable to to see where he was going or locate food. Fortunately the Kampot Department of Social Affairs was alerted to his presence and tried to track his mother done. They found her, but her reply was "If I am blind how can I know this is really my son" and she refused any contact with the little boy. The local authorities therefore put him in a temporary shelter for orphaned children and it is then they came to us asking for our help.

Today he goes to school and is learning how to read and write using Braille, he lives with children his own age and is specially cared for by our second housemother. He has begun learning Mohori music and is for the first time leading a normal, healthy life surrounded by loving people.

In November both our resident children and some of our scholarship students, as well as our blind students took part in the Opening Ceremony of the first ever International Writers and Readers Festival. The opening ceremony was held at our school and later during the festival we did our first première performance of our newly learned Shadow Puppet Theatre (Lakoun Sabaik Toch) to much acclaim. We are now preparing new performances to take to remote and rural areas of Kampot, where Cambodians have no access to their cultural heritage, but this is another story...and will be told in our next report! First however, we are going to perform at the National Cultural Competition in Phnom Penh by invitation of the Ministry of Culture and we will perform the ancient Yike with special songs written for our blind children to perform, as they have the most beautiful voices....Look out in mid-February on our Facebook page for a recording of these songs!

Wishing you all a most Happy and Peaceful 2016!

 

All photographs were taken with the full permission and knowledge of our students! We have avoided using names for the sake of their privacy.

Using Braille to learn our school lessons
Using Braille to learn our school lessons
A Mohori lesson
A Mohori lesson
Representing Cambodia at the THAI ASEAN festival
Representing Cambodia at the THAI ASEAN festival
Making things from play dough during fun time
Making things from play dough during fun time

Links:

 
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