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!
CUS student painting our wall
Former Cambodian students from Japanese university