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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
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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Our Mohori teacher teaching the Khim instrument
Our Mohori teacher teaching the Khim instrument

Dear friends and supporters of our school,

Thank you so much for having supported us all through this last year. Your generosity has helped keep our school open and running. Thanks to your help we have reached out to many children from local villages, who come daily to our school for their music and performing arts lessons. 

We have been teaching Pin Peat and Mohori music, Yike theatre and shadow puppet theatre. This year our Mohori teacher has had health problems. He was held prisoner by the Khmer Rouge and miraculously survived, but this and the years of deprivation took a toll on his health. We wish him good health and strength for the New Year!

Cambodia is often assessed as doing quite well economically in comparison to ten years ago. However those who make these kinds of assessments are looking only at the capital city Phnom Penh and the rise of urban development there. Yet the majority of Cambodians live in rural areas. Their lives have not improved and many live without clean water, electricity, toilets, or proper health centres. Although schools are supposed to be free, the reality is that rural children have to bring gifts of money or rice to ensure that they can get the schooling that they need. When someone in a family gets sick, family members have to sell livestock, even their houses to get medical treatment for their loved ones. Even then many people die of preventable diseases, because of lack of expertise in medical doctors and poor hygiene in hospitals.

People who are in their late thirties and upwards suffer from trauma linked to the decades long war and the Khmer Rouge genocide. This has resulted in severe affectivity problems, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, having a knock-on effect on the younger generation of Cambodians. There is now a sharp increase in drug-use, glue sniffing and alcoholism amongst the young. Many very poor people in the middle-age bracket, to alleviate their suffering take to gambling and alcohol with cheap rice spirits, devestating to their health. The government is mired in corruption and Buddhist religious institutes are no longer the bulwarks or role models they were ten or twenty years ago. This means there is no symbolic figure or meaning in people's lives to focus on and help them look up to a better future or better ideals.

Teaching young children and youth who face difficulties in their families, or who come from a life of poverty, helps them to look to new horizons. It helps them train as professional musicians. The very act of learning music and concentrating on something that is in itself so harmonious and positive, brings wonderful pyschological and emotional benefits. It also disciplines the mind and increases concentration levels. Because traditional Cambodian culture is in danger of dying out, it is extremely important to give high quality tuition by real masters to pass their knowledge and skills onto the next generation of Cambodians.

If you would like to really help these children who come during the day, as well as our orphaned and blind children who are resident at our school, then please join our End of Year Campaign 2017.

The End of Year Campaign has been running since November 29th and will end at 23.59.59 on December 31st 2017. Global Giving will give prizes to those NGOs who raise the most funds and the most donors. Please tell your friends and relatives to join in too.

You can donate to this project here. Donations can be made using Paypal, Credit/Debit cards, Gift cards and transfer.

The End of Year Campaign is of vital importance to our school, because it helps us raise significant funds to keep our school going. Cambodia no longer receives the attention or aid it used to, this has an effect on projects working with children and youth, like our school. If you help support our school, not only do you ensure tuition is given to local village children, you also help those of our children resident at our school who have no parents and who have nowhere else to go.

Our school does not have any expatriate overheads or administrative costs, so that each donation goes straight to the heart of our programs and to the children we assist.

Thank You for Your Help!

Taking a peek behind the scenes
Taking a peek behind the scenes

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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
$13,106 raised of $20,000 goal
 
366 donations
$6,894 to go
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