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Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia

by Khmer Cultural Development Institute
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Free Arts Training for 150 Children in Cambodia
Two Hundred Children visit Our School
 
 
Dear Friends and Donors,
 
Thank you so much for your wonderful help and generosity. We deeply appreciate your support!
 
In January we hosted the "Kampot Arts Festival" in coordination with our festival partners, Epic Arts. One of the events was a series of workshops held at our school (KCDI). Over two hundred children came to participate and our school was just buzzing with energy and excitement. 
 
The children divided themselves into groups and took turns in trying out the traditional arts, such as classical Cambodian dance, Folk dance, Yike dance, how to make leather Shadow Puppets and how to play Mohori music. The traditional workshops were held by our teachers at KCDI. Contemporary dance and face-painting were taught by Epic Arts, while SVA prepared a mobile library under the shade of the trees in our garden. These kinds of workshops are important for young Cambodians to get to know their artistic heritage, especially after the destruction by the Khmer Rouge and the deaths of so many people during the genocide. Cambodia is also currently facing the challenges of rapid Westernisation and mass tourism, which is threatening to wipe-out ancient cultural traditions, as well as creating further economic hardships for a large percentage of the population who live in rural areas.  Our school is dedicated to the care of very vulnerable children and the preservation of the traditional arts for future generations of Cambodians.
 
Not only do we teach the traditional arts on a daily basis to local, impoverished children, we also do large workshops, so that as many children and youth as possible can have a go and get to know their cultural heritage. These workshops often result in children coming afterwards and with permission from their parents, continuing with their favourite art-form on our Outreach Program, which you so kindly sponsor.
 
Through the years our school has taught very poor children from Chumkriel and Tray Koh villages. These former alumni have grown up now and some are themselves professional musicians and teachers. We have taught classical dance to girls from Samdech Ta Primary school and taught the arts to over four hundred children from Di Pok State school. We also teach Mohori music to disabled youth and also a group of girls from the local Lycée. We taught traditional music for over a year to disabled students from Epic Arts. We also help liaise and care for those children who are very poor and who sometimes need a meal or other support. Much of this has been possible with your kind donations. Thank you.
 
Our Outreach Program is the second of our main programs. Our first main program is for Residential Children and details of this program can be found on GlobalGiving (Education-Arts-Orphaned-Disabled-Children-Cambodia). On our Residential Program, we take full-time care of children who have no parents and nobody who can take care of them. Many of these children have been abused and neglected by extended family and have been placed into our care by local authorities. Some of them have life-changing illnesses and injuries. We also provide rehabilitation and care to blind children in coordination with their families and the authorities. Both able-bodied and disabled children receive complete care at our school from infant school until university level. Those who have a safe family link are able to visit their families regularly. We follow International Child Safety Guidelines and all our work is done in close coordination with the Department of Social Affairs, as well as the Ministries of Education and Culture for both our academic and cultural programs.
 
In order to assist more children through our Outreach Program, I met with the director of the Kampot Department of Social Affairs last month, to discuss our new project, which is to reach out and give substantial support to very vulnerable children who live with single mothers and whose current life circumstances put them at great risk. Some of these children beg in order to survive and don’t go to school, because they are too poor. We will be providing them with food, clothing, school uniforms, school books and stationary, facilitating state school education and of course free arts training, as therapy and vocational training. In the late afternoons we will then provide transport for them to go back to their mothers in their villages. I will keep you informed about this project.
In our world today, we often underestimate the importance of the arts as an essential form of healing and a higher form of human expression. The arts are always the first to be cut from government budgets and many people consider culture a waste of time, without  ever having the opportunity to learn about it’s benefits. Many people’s goals are to earn a lot of money and climb up the social ladder.  They may go through their lives never knowing that the essential things of life cannot be bought.
From personal experience in teaching Mohori music at a rehabilitation centre near Phnom Penh,  I have watched war-injured ex-soldiers recover a sense of dignity and smile again just by learning a musical instrument. My own experiences as a professional musician has allowed me to have the privilege to play not only for a large public, but to bring joy to people with Alzheimer and to quietly sing to dear friends who are dying and who at their request want to hear a beautiful song to relieve them from fear and pain.
In our rush to get through life, we forget that we have been given the gift of music, dance and visual arts to express our higher selves and bring peace and something very special to not only ourselves, but to those around us.
 
So thank you for helping so many children receive free arts training and for being part of a bigger picture, where young people can learn not only about their heritage, but benefit in immeasurable ways from participating in music, dance and theatre lessons.
 
Author: Catherine Louise Geach
 
Position: Founder
 
Address: 1, Ousaphea, Kampong Bay, Kampot, Kingdom of Cambodia
 
Facebook. Official Facebook Page: www.Facebook.com/KampotMusicSchool
 
 
1)Neark Kru An Teaching Visiting Children Traditional Cambodian Dance: Photo courtesy of KCDI
2) Children learn ancient Yike dance with Neark Kru Savorn (KCDI)
3) Learning how to make Traditional Shadow Puppets
Mobile Library run by SVA in our Garden (KCDI)
 
 
Mohori Music Workshop with Loak Kru Samouen (KCDII
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Madam Em Theay in the background teaches a student
Madam Em Theay in the background teaches a student

Last week we had the great honour to welcome to our school the legendary dance teacher Madam Loak Yeay Em Theay. Considered a "Living National Treasure" in Cambodia, Madam Em Theay came with her daughter Madam Kim An our dance teacher to give a very special masterclass.

In the earlier part of the twentieth century, Cambodian traditional culture flourished and was famous worldwide for it's grace and beauty. Passed down from master to pupil using the oral tradition, for over a thousand years it was given to each new generation. The traditional culture of Cambodia, most especially music and dance is considered sacred. The crowns of traditional dancers have wing like shapes at the sides to represent celestial beings. No music, dance or theatre piece can be performed without first paying homage to Buddha and the ancestors of the arts. No crown may be placed on a dancer's head without prayer and offerings made first. It is said that Cambodians experience music from the cradle to the grave and that they are a nation of artists.

Alas the traditional arts nearly vanished when during the Khmer Rouge genocide between 1975-1979, approximately ninety percent of Cambodian artists were killed or perished from disease or starvation. Today rampant Westernisation of Cambodia and lack of attention and funding  by the government also threatens this ancient cultural heritage.

The Khmer Rouge genocide was preceded by war from 1970 and then followed by more civil war with the Khmer Rouge fighting from their mountain strongholds until the official ceasfire around 1998/99.

Imagine therefore what effect this had on the very fabric of Cambodian society and the sense of identity as a people. It is for this reason that Madam Em Theay the last surviving dance master is so important. She is a living memory. In 1979 there were five great dance masters left alive, now she is the only one left. Madam Em Theay and Madam Kim An are from the Royal Ballet and before the war lived and danced in the Royal Palace and were taught by her Majesty Queen Kossimak. The Royal family of Cambodia were traditionally the guardians of the arts.

When the terrible years of the Khmer Rouge rule ended, survivors slowly made their way back to the capital Phnom Penh. One of the first areas to be restored was the National Ballet and University of Fine Arts. Without any salary, because there was no currency (the Khmer Rouge had destroyed all banks and money), Cambodian artists were paid in rice and painstakingly pieced together their art forms, drawing from their memories.

Both Madam Em Theay and Madam Kim An have devoted their lives to restoring their heritage, teaching children each dance step and hand movement. In Cambodian dance each hand movement, has a special meaning such as an unfurling leaf, a flower in bud, love and so on. Women and girls perform three roles, the maiden, the prince and the ogre. Men and boys perform the Hanuman Money King and his army. For each role the hand and body movements are different. It is incredibly sophisticated. In the first photograph you will see Madam Em Theay in the background correcting one of our students as she dances the male role of the prince, Madam Kim An is in the foreground giving the correct example. Girls who are taller and have longer faces are selected to dance the male (Nirung) roles, whilst girls who are shorter and have rounder faces dance the female (Neang) role. 

Madam Kim An teaches all our resident children and the children on our Outreach Program (which you all kindly support). This means many children from outside our school who come from impoverished and disadvantaged backgrounds can benefit from the highest quality training and learn about and cherish their cultural heritage. Despite her advanced age Madam Em Theay very kindly gave a  free three-day masterclass to our resident children. We treasure her gift.

We would all like to thank you for so generously helping make our training programs in traditional Cambodian Music, Dance, Yike theatre and Shadow Puppet Theatre possible. We thank you for the kind support you give enabling us to reach out to many children. We thank you for your understanding that culture and the arts is a heritage which is so precious and really can make a difference in our world, bringing sublime beauty, harmony and solace to so many. Let us keep the arts alive everywhere!

If you would like to invite your friends and family to participate in our End of Year Campaign on GlobalGiving for 2018, this campaign is now open and running and will end on December 31st at 23:59:59 Washington DC time.

Thank you all!

Paying homage to a great teacher
Paying homage to a great teacher
Students studying the female role with Madam Theay
Students studying the female role with Madam Theay
Dance exercises!
Dance exercises!

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Robam Chuon Puor (KCDI students)
Robam Chuon Puor (KCDI students)

Dear friends of our school,

Thank you so much for your wonderful and very kind support. We deeply appreciate your help!

Since I last wrote, we have further developed our Outreach Program and we have now included students from the Samdech Ta Primary School. In coordination with their headteacher, their parents and of course our director Mr Sothy, we have organised that girls aged from eight to ten can now study classical Cambodian dance for free at our school. Many of these girls come from poor and disadvantaged families in Kampot and we specifically invited the head-master to identify those girls from more difficult backgrounds who really wanted to study with us.

They study with our Dance Master Neark Kru An* who is considered one of the greatest dance teachers still alive in Cambodia. She learned classical Cambodian ballet as a child, before the war and the genocide within the walls of the Royal Palace, under the tuition of Her Majesty Queen Kossimak, when dance was a secret held only by the Royal Family and Royal Dance troupe. Madame An's mother is the famed dancer and master Loak Yeay Em Theay who is considered a living national treasure and the last survivor of another era.

I wrote in a previous report how when the genocide was over, Near Kru An painstakingly pieced together different dances and dance-roles relying on her memory alone, after hundreds of dancers and artists had perished.

It's very important for the preservation of Cambodia's traditional cultural heritage that arts teachers are the "real thing" and teach, (using oral tradition) their art form correctly, otherwise it gets damaged by unskilled, less professional artists.  Unfortunately in Cambodia at the moment with the boom in "doing arts" for tourists, or NGOs teaching Cambodian youth dance or music, little attention is being paid as to whether these art forms  are being taught correctly. Cambodian dance and music is considered by UNESCO as "World Intangible Cultural Heritage", but in the flurry of tourists and neglect of the arts, this heritage is being put at risk. Additionally although dance is considered sacred, it is often performed in grand hotels or restuarants whilst tourists eat their meals! This is because many artists are so poor and receive such little support from the government that they have little choice. Although the Ministry of Culture does what it can, it doesn't have nearly enough resources to support the Royal Ballet and National Theatre, as well as other artists.

Since the 1980's and 1990's respect and cultivation of traditional Cambodian arts has gone into severe decline and it is a challenging time for many traditional artists, especially for the Royal Ballet.

We ourselves had direct experience of this lack of knowledge when our beloved dance teacher took long leave for family reasons and we had two young dance teachers in succession who each out-did the other in teaching the wrong movements and dance sequences.   

As our school not only takes care of very vulnerable children some of whom have nowhere else to go, but also focuses on the preservation and revival of Cambodia's Traditional Performing Arts, we take particular care in whom we employ. We are blessed to have Neark Kru An, who not only teaches superbly, but is very kind with our children and lets us borrow the more expensive costumes from her dance company during our official dance performances!

Our folkdance teacher Neark Kru Lida teaches dance to our blind children as well as our sighted children, to help them have lots of fun and a healthy, physical activity. This helps strengthen them especially chest, arm and leg muscles, which for children blind from birth, tend to remain underdeveloped. Some of our children who are blind on one eye and partially sighted in the other, also undertake traditional classical dance performances too.

Your help therefore is multifold. On the surface you support our arts program and our arts teachers who give free tuition to many children in Kampot, but your also support these same teachers who take care of and teach our resident children too. You also play a part in helping keep Cambodia's wonderful, unique cultural heritage alive for future generations.

Thank You.

* To protect her privacy we have not used her full name. 

Photographs kind courtesy of Steve Porte with permission of KCDI students

Dance rehearsal at KCDI
Dance rehearsal at KCDI
Official Dance performance KCDI students
Official Dance performance KCDI students

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Painting our wall by CUS
Painting our wall by CUS

Hello dear friends of our school,

Thank you all so much for your kind and much appreciated support of our school.

I thought it would be nice to write a report on a lesser known part of our program, which is our Outreach and Networking program with other fellow Cambodian students and foundations, as well as other lesser known activities our school does.

As you might perhaps know, our school has in the past performed abroad on numerous occasions, including festivals for  the development of friendship between Vietnam and Cambodia, but also in Europe and in Qatar. We have also welcomed foreign foundations such as the Finnish Sibelius Academy, the US Marine Band and high schools from Qatar. In special workshops we have learned about each other's cultures and performing arts and we have shared our knowledge, giving joint performances to celebrate both our diversity and our Oneness.

We have also used our main hall to house exhibitions looking into painful topics such as the U.S. carpet bombing of Cambodia, or inviting the Documentation Centre of Cambodia to come and talk about the Cambodian genocide and show documentary films. We have shown award winning films and opened our doors to the Cambodian public, so that they can have free access to learn about their history and hopefully find some relief from painful memories. For political reasons the Cambodian government has not allowed much information about the Cambodian genocide by the Khmer Rouge (1975-79) to be given to the public. Many Cambodians also suffered dreadfully under the secret mass bombings ordered by President Nixon, but have not had much information or closure on this part of their past. Our aim is to share our resources and invite specialists to come to our school, so that Cambodian people can learn about and begin healing from their past.

As perhaps the only centre focusing in the revivial and preservation of traditional Khmer culture in Kampot Province and Southwest Cambodia in general, we also attract attention from Cambodian universities and groups. We are extremely pleased at this quite recent development, because it means that young, educated Cambodians are interested and respectful about their own cultural heritage. Many are also compassionate and responsible young people, who demonstrate a genuine interest in our school and our children's well-being. 

Each month we have one or two University or Cambodian foundations visit our school. For example we recently had a visit by the University of Economics with links to France. The university students came for a cultural exchange. Our students performed traditional Pin Peat and Mohori music, classical Cambodian dance and Yike. The university students spoke about their studies and interests. They donated rice, noodles, cooking oil and made monetry donations.

We also had a visit from former Cambodian university students who had studied in Japan and a further university group with many young women students who spoke with our children and emphasised the importance of education as a way out of poverty and as the key to a good future. We are particularly grateful to these young people for their encouragement and the positive role-model they give. In rural Cambodia especially, we face an uphill battle where once girls reach adolescence, they are considered as a bargaining chip to be used in marriage or sent to factories. In very dysfunctional families, they are sold into prostiution. We have direct experience where extended families are neglectful and unloving, even cruel to orphaned girls when they are little and are only too glad to put them in a school such as ours, but once the girls are bigger, they develop a sudden, avid interest and want them back again. Then we are faced with the dilemna of a young girl who is progressing well with her school education, who has dreams about becoming a doctor or a professional artist and who is free. Suddenly she feels opressed by age-old family duties expected of a young girl and feels torn whether to be obedient, or to live out her own life.

Visits by young university students really help us by reinforcing the ethics of fulfilling one's deepest dreams, of becoming all that one can be and of not being afraid to be different. Our children receive many positive benefits from these role-models.

Some universities like the Cambodian University of Specialities have been incredibly helpful. Last weekend they came, a whole class of them from Phnom Penh and wonderfully painted our school wall. Given that our school grounds are large, that was a lot of wall to paint. We are so very grateful to them.  Our school has four buildings in large gardens and given the tropical climate, everything is constantly needing a lick of paint, or repairs.

We welcome Cambodian student groups rather than expatriate volunteers, because we share the same cultural understanding and sensitivity. We speak the same language and understand socio-cultural traditions and protocol in the same way.  We are also able to do background checks on the universities and students are under supervision from their tutors. We have a strict Child Protection Policy which does not allow foreign volunteers, this also includes tourism-volunteering which we consider harmful. Our policy is in place in order to safe-guard and protect the well-being of our children and the harmony and peace of our school as a whole. 

We have also been witness to some well-meaning foreigners, perhaps unconsiously escaping personal grievances, or those who have come to Cambodia with unclear ethics and in these cases they create more harm than good. There are some expatriate volunteers alas who come to Cambodia with the idea that because they are Western, that they "know better", and they can be quite heavy- footed and insensitive. Of course most of this is unconsious behaviour and the majority of people only mean well, but.......

On International Children's Day on the 1st of June our children enjoyed games and fun and a Cambodian delegation came from Phnom Penh and through our staff gave gifts to each of our children.

Looking across the two and more decades that our school has been running, the involvement of Cambodians themselves in caring for and participating in activities that support disadvantaged children and in taking an interest in their own culture, is a very positive step. It is a step towards a country becoming more responsible for it's own citizens and looking out for those less fortunate than themselves. There is still a long way to go, especially in rural Cambodia where there is still much prejudice and isolation towards the disabled, people with HIV and orphaned children, however we are very happy at this positive step from young, educated Cambodians. 

Lovely painted wall at our school!
Lovely painted wall at our school!
CUS student painting our wall
CUS student painting our wall
Former Cambodian students from Japanese university
Former Cambodian students from Japanese university

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Painting together
Painting together

Hello dear Friends and Supporters of our School,

 

Thank you so much for your wonderful support during our December End of Year Campaign. We raised over $10,000 for our school which is an enormous help and keeps us open and running for several months. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Normally in these reports, I write about our students who come during the day for their free arts lessons and our resident children who are orphaned and some of whom are blind. Today I would like to tell you about the Kampot Arts Festival which was held for three days in January in coordination with Epic Arts and Sarawasati Press.

The idea of the Kampot Arts Festival which will also be held next year, is to support Cambodian artists by allowing them a voice and a platform on which to perform or show their arts. The emphasis is on tradititional arts, but also embracing contemporary arts too. More than at any time, are Cambodian arts and culture, especially traditional arts, in danger of dying out completely. There is such an overwhelming wave of Westernization, capitalism and rapid destruction of architectural and cultural heritage that there is no time to be lost in putting measures in place to conserve Cambodian arts.  The artists themselves are finding it harder and harder to make a living and their rich and ancient heritage risks being trampled underfoot by ignorant tourists and rampent real estate development, as well as unprecidented overeach by China into this small country.

With an opening ceremony held at our school, both our resident children and outreach students performed the "Robam Chuon Puor" (Blessing Dance), traditional Mohori music performed by our blind students and fantastic shadow puppet theatre. The wonderful contemporary arts NGO, Epic Arts gave a beautiful dance performance with their young adult students who are deaf and some also wheelchair users. The local Youth Club gave a performance of Folk Dance and one Epic Arts Studentsinterpreted all the different speeches in sign language. It was truly a special event. 

The next day our school opened it's doors to various shared activities with Epic Arts, these included painting and modern dance workshops, but also traditional dance, music and shadow puppet workshops given by our masters and oldest students. We were so happy when a large queue of young Cambodians came to learn about and participate in the arts. One of the most popular was the puppet-making workshop. It gave us hope for the future of Cambodia's culture when we saw so many young people joining in with such enthusiasm.

Then at the very beginning of March we welcomed Cambodian University students from the American Stanford University in Phnom Penh. They came to our school for a shared lunch with our resident and outreach students and our teachers.Then after a performance given by our students, they talked about the importance of higher education and striving towards creating a positive life. They were very good role models for our own children. Their visit is one of several that we have had in the last few months, encouraging an exchange of ideas amongst our school and other higher education institutes.

(Photos by Steve Porte. Permission was granted by all those photographed)

Performance on Opening Night
Performance on Opening Night
Epic Arts student interpreting a speech
Epic Arts student interpreting a speech
Puppet making workshop with Master Samoeun
Puppet making workshop with Master Samoeun
Students from Stanford Uni with KCDI
Students from Stanford Uni with KCDI

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Organization Information

Khmer Cultural Development Institute

Location: Kampot Town, Kampot Province - Cambodia
Website:
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Project Leader:
Catherine Geach
Founder
Kampot, Cambodia
$13,159 raised of $20,000 goal
 
367 donations
$6,841 to go
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