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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
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

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In the garden
In the garden

Background

We have a lot of news to fill in these last three months.

Perhaps the most beautiful story is that of Tai who has been blind since early childhood and is part of a group of blind children who firstly came to study Mohori music at our school and who now live at our school as their permanent shelter.

Tai aged 15 has a wonderful singing voice and is also a talented musician. He comes from a remote village in Kampot. As with so many blind people in Cambodia, he had no chance of any kind of education or training in his birthplace, because there simply are not enough Braille teachers in Cambodia and none ever come to such isolated places as Tais' and of most rural Cambodians. Blind people are left to struggle alone, often ending up as beggars or living appalling lives. Some are regarded with shame by their families and hidden from sight. The Cambodian Ministry of Culture invited our school to participate in the ASEAN Conference "Art for All" in Thailand. Together with our Pin Peat music master and a representative from the Ministry, Thai went to Thailand and performed Mohori music and joined in the workshops for people from all over Southeast Asia. This was a very special moment, not only for our school, but for Tai and for the rights and recognition of blind people in Cambodia and everywhere. 

Our school has had to develop and adjust in order to help this group of blind students. We wanted them to be near their families and avoid them being sent to an institution or NGO in another province, not because the NGO's are not good, for they are excellent, but because the children very much need frequent contact with their families and to remain in a place that is familiar to them. We now have a special housemother to care for their needs, who works in coordination with the rest of our staff and Braille teachers. 

It has been truly beautiful to see our blind children so happy and to see our sighted children who already live at the school, take care of them and lead them by the hand around the school. Their presence enriches our lives and helps us to remember those who are hidden and forgotten by society.

 

Partnering to help the disabled

In these last two months we have also been partnering with Epic Arts in Kampot. They specialise in contemporary dance for disabled people, to promote their different abilities and to raise awareness and tolerance in Cambodia. They also wanted to do a traditional arts program for both disabled and non-disabled young people, but having no teacher specialists in this area, asked us to assist. We now teach their students at our school both traditional Mohori and Pin Peat music. We are very happy to be able to partner and to reach out to as many young people as possible.

 

Shadow Puppet Theatre Première

 

Do read on our Facebook page about our Shadow Puppet theatre program....we are doing our second workshop, this time about the art of performing shadow puppets, learning how to move the puppets, interpret voices and musical interludes as well as lighting techniques to create eery shadows. Find out when our première performance is on our Facebook page.

 

Thank you for your generous help

On behalf of all our staff and children at our school, we thank you for your belief in our work and your constant support and generosity. Please help our project for blind children, as well as all those children who receive free arts training and scholarships, to continue benefiting from our school programs. Thank You!

A Mohori ensemble
A Mohori ensemble
A music lesson
A music lesson

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Studying the art of puppet making
Studying the art of puppet making

Dear friends and supporters of Kampot Traditional Music School,

 

We are very happy to share with you our latest news. Finally after over 40 years since it's disappearance in Kampot Province, we have begun the revival of Lakoun Sabaik Toch.

 

What is Lakoun Sabaik Toch and why did it Disappear?

 

Lakoun Sabaik Toch is the ancient Cambodian art of shadow puppets. It is thought that it's origins are as old as a thousand years and that it was practised during the reign of the Kings of Angkor, in Siem Reap in North Western Cambodia.

Beautifully ornate characters are carved and cut out of specially prepared and cured cow leather. Propped on thin bamboo sticks to aid movement, they are played behind a lighted screen which creates eery shadows, to the interpretation of voices and Pin Peat music. There are two kinds of Lakoun Sabaik; the big one "Thom" and the small one "Toch", this doesn't mean the size of the puppets, but that the big one portrays only sacred and epic stories from the Hindu Ramayana (Reamker in Cambodian) and Buddhist tales and so is considered sacred and therefore in Cambodian language "Big". Cambodia was greatly influenced by Indian culture and Hindu religion, before converting to Theravada Buddhism at the time it is thought that Ashoka brought Buddhism to Southeast Asia. Today this wonderful mix of different cultural influences can still be found.

The "Small" Lakoun Sabaik puppet theatre consists of a mix of influences from the Ramayana (Reamker), the Apsara (celestial dancer found in carvings at Angkor) and comic, tragic and grotesque characters and animals depicting daily life. The "Small" shadow puppet theatre is for the people, telling stories about history, educative and moral tales and related to their lives. It is a much loved art.

First came civil war in Cambodia between 1970-75 when King Sihanouk was deposed and General Lon Nol took power and when the United States carpet bombed Cambodia to flush out Viet Cong fighters supposedly hiding on Cambodian soil. Then destabilized beyond repair, Cambodia with 1 million refugees in the capital Phnom Penh, cut off from food, supplies, the airport and roads closed, succumbed to the onslaught of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot.

The Khmer Rouge forced the entire population out of towns and cities and created a terrible "New Society" known as the "Year Zero". It is thought that between 2 to 3 million Cambodian people perished between 1975-79, a third of the population. Intellectuals, teachers, engineers, doctors, economists, artists, educated people, former civil servants, former police, soldiers, Buddhist monks, Muslim Chham and all these people's families were executed. It is estimated that 90% of Cambodian artists, both traditional and contemporary, died. In Kampot, the art of Pin Peat music died out, Mohori music was very basic and Lakoun Sabaik (Shadow puppetry) had disappeared altogether.

Imagine therefore what it must have been like in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge regime ended- in each Province, when there were no more teachers, doctors, artisans and artists. Yet Cambodia was not allowed to enjoy peace and reconstruction. The Khmer Rouge hid in the long range of mountains stretching all the way down the country and conducted guerilla warfare, inflicting fear and suffering on the populations living in the countryside. Ironically, the Khmer Rouge enjoyed a seat at the United Nations under the name "Democratic Kampuchea Party", as the official representative of Cambodia, in international opposition to the Vietnamese backed Cambodian government. A trade and aid embargo was imposed on Cambodia and the suffering of ordinary Cambodian people seemed endless. 

 

Reviving Lakoun Sabaik Toch in Kampot

 

Our school was built in the Southwestern Province of Kampot 21 years ago, during the civil war and indeed we faced many difficulties due to shelling, shooting and unrest. Gradually we developed from teaching traditional Pin Peat music, to Mohori and Plein Ka music, from folk dance to classical Cambodian ballet, Trott, Chhayam and then Yike theatre, music and dance. Our residential children graduated and more came in and then we expanded our program to include children from the local community, until today - when we teach 400 local Cambodian children traditional Cambodian performing arts, 10 blind children Mohori music and 20 scholarship children Pin Peat and Mohori/Plein Ka music.

All these years as we have developed, we have had the dream of creating our own traditional shadow puppet troupe - Sabaik Lakoun Toch and bring once more back to Kampot, this fantastic art form.

We finally received official sponsorship and we have just finished our puppet making course with the puppet master from Sovannah Phum on Phnom Penh. We shared our workshop with other local state schools and we have taken the first major step towards our goal. Now our students and teachers know how to cure leather, treat it, cut it, draw puppets, cut them out, ornament them and make them move. In so doing we have brought back to our children and to future generations the technique of skilled artisanship. 

In performing Lakoun Sabaik Toch, we are able to create our own story lines and portray real educative themes, such as the prevention of AIDS, the importance of education in rural areas, where children, especially girls are often pulled out of school to work and marry early, before finishing their education.

Yet without your help and support, we could never have developed as much as we have done, because before any new project is undertaken, we must first support our children and staff.

We would like to thank you all for your belief in our work, for your unstinting and generous support and for making it possible for us to continue helping so many children and conserving the precious cultural heritage of Cambodia.

Thank You! 

The puppet master giving a lesson
The puppet master giving a lesson
An ornamented puppet
An ornamented puppet
Two buffaloes, a butterfly and a monkey!
Two buffaloes, a butterfly and a monkey!
The end of the course!
The end of the course!

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Dance practice Pheap and friends
Dance practice Pheap and friends

Dear friends of Kampot Traditional Music School,

Thank you so much for your recent support, especially those of you who give regularly each month and those who participated in our special fundraising day on May 13th!

As you all know our Outreach program has several programs, not only for our 400 disadvantaged children from Kampot town and rural areas, but also our 10 blind Mohori music students and our 20 scholarship students from very poor and vulnerable rural backgrounds.

In this month's report, we would like to especially remember one of our scholarship students, Pheap. First she came to our school on our free arts training program for children from rural areas including Chumkriel and TrayKoh. Our school coordinated with the local head monk of the Pagoda school and local primary state school director. Pheap came as a little girl around the year 2000, small and quiet, but soon she shone at Pin Peat music and revealed a great talent and determination. It then came to light that she had significant family problems with an abusive and alcoholic father and was extremely poor. It was decided by her family and our school that Pheap should come to live at our school as a scholarship student under our protection.

Not only did Pheap excel at music, she also attained top grades in her academic studies, going on to gain her high school Baccalaureate and win a place at the Angkor Khemara University of Kampot. Her difficult family status and her talent earned her a scholarship at university. She graduated in 2012. Today she is an accountant at a local school, she is married and has a baby son. Pheap often drops by our school to say hello to her former teachers, because we are a part of her family. Pheap (which is not her full name), kindly gave permission for us to write about her in this month's report.

Invitation by Ministry of Culture to perform for ASEAN Conference

Our school was invited to select one of our most talented students from our Mohori music program for blind children, to perform participate in the ASEAN Conference to be held in Thailand in July/August of this year. Our student who is now an adolescent will be accompanied by our Pin Peat teacher and a carer. Together with our Pin Peat teacher he will perform 5 Mahori songs for the conference and then participate in workshops. The ASEAN Conference "Art for All" is on the occasion of Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindihorn's 60th birthday and is being held to promote the important cultural imput by disabled artists in Southeast Asia. We all feel so excited and honoured by this invitation and the possibility to promote Cambodian traditional music abroad! We promise to post photos after the event!!

Please do keep on supporting us. Your help is truly precious and provides an important part of our needs, helping us to reach out to so many children in Kampot!

From all of us at the Kampot Traditional Music School - Thank You!

Pheap at school
Pheap at school

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Performance of outreach & resident Yike students
Performance of outreach & resident Yike students

 

 

News from Kampot

 

I recently returned from a trip to our school in Kampot, Cambodia to be with our staff and children and to see how our programs are progessing.

You have all been helping sponsor over 400 primary and secondary school children mainly from the Di Pok state school, but also from other local state schools, who all come to study traditional Cambodian music, dance and theatre at our school. Many are very poor and come from quite degraded and difficult backgrounds. The tuition of the arts in this form gives these children not only an opportunity to learn about their heritage, but it also provides them with an objective, keeping them away from street-life, glue sniffing and youth gangs.

After more than a year each sector from Pin Peat music and Mahori music ensembles to folk dance and Yike have begun performing in special public concerts in order to show their achievements and gain a certain professionality in stage skills. When they perform they are very proud of themselves! The interest in this program is such that now two new groups of state school students want to join our program.

 

What we've been doing Recently

In a local competition our school represented the different aspects of traditional Cambodian culture, from the different music forms, from the Yike to classical dance. Linking these different themes was a group of high school students on our training program from Di Pok school. In a form of narrative theatre they took the audience through different stages of the peformances. In the storyline they appear as high school students attracted by drugs and rave culture, but then they meet an old wise man who instructs them on the beauty and harmony of their ancient cultural heritage. The performance witnesses the transformation of this group of students from intolerance to tolerance from impatience to patience and from hate to peace and open-mindedness. The students were excellent in their performance.

 

Scholarship Students

Both our Mahori music and Pin Peat music teachers in their spare time formed two different ensembles with rural children, not connected to the free arts training program, ie not part of the state school and KCDI program. These very poor students were drawn to study the different musics from their own individual interest and passion for Cambodian music. The Mahori ensemble is with slightly older adolescent students, while the Pin Peat ensemble is with younger mostly pre-adolscent students. The talent of these different children is such that in a short space of time they have learned over 30 different Pin Peat pieces!

The younger Pin Peat students come from a rural area outside the town and towards the cement factory. They are not only very poor, but their families have significant problems. Coming home from school they often don't have anything to eat because their parents have spent all day gambling and drinking. The children tend to work very hard helping their parents in the rice fields, therefore learning music for them is a very important release from the pressures and difficulties of their daily lives.

Our school has now decided to officially insert them into our teaching timetable, providing food, care and assistance for those children worst affected by negligence and poverty. With the permission of their families and in coordination with them, we have formed this special group of highly talented scholarship students.

 

Please keep on Helping us!

 

Please continue helping our program. Your generosity has provided wonderfully diverse arts tuition for so many children and now our scholarship students too. Unfortunately the gap between rich and poor in Cambodia is ever-widening. Exacerbating this divide is the rising cost of food and rice. In order to help our scholarship students study they also need to be supported and to eat. This is one way of lightening the burden of costs for their families and ensuring that they continue studying and have a future away from alcohol abuse and addictive gambling. We also need to support out teachers for their priceless work, not only passing on their knowledge to new generations, but for their kindness, patience and skills.

During my visit to Cambodia, I also met the Minister of Culture who praised our school for our work and promised to protect us in the future. Our work is considered of vital importance, not only as a social development and vocational training, but representative of Cambodian people's desire to remember and restore their treasured culture.

Please tell your friends and collegues to support our work!

Thank You All from everyone at the Kampot Traditional Music School - Khmer Cultural Development Institute (KCDI)

Scholarship students perform Pin Peat
Scholarship students perform Pin Peat
Getting ready for the competition!
Getting ready for the competition!
Di Pok theatrical students
Di Pok theatrical students
Meeting the Minister
Meeting the Minister

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Organization Information

Khmer Cultural Development Institute

Location: Kampot Town, Kampot Province - Cambodia
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Project Leader:
Catherine Geach
Founder
Kampot, Cambodia
$13,189 raised of $20,000 goal
 
368 donations
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