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:

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:

 
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