Project #13106

Free Arts training for 400 children in Cambodia

by Khmer Cultural Development Institute
Dance exercises
Dance exercises

Dear friends and supporters of our school,

Thank you so much for your kind and important support. We appreciate it so much.

We have been making important changes to our free arts training program and we would like you to know what we have changed and why.

Our Challenges

As you know we were providing free arts training to hundreds of children and teenagers from local state schools, in particular the Di Pok state school and Samdech Ta' school. This was part of a program requested by the Ministries of Education and Culture to teach as many young Cambodians as possible about their traditional culture. This is considered an important area for conservation, because of the loss and damage done to cultural heritage during the Khmer Rouge genocide between 1975-79.

Our teaching staff dedicated hours each week for several years teaching local school children traditional music, Yike and dance. However our staff decided that this program was not working well and not bringing the right results.


Because the students were given to us without taking into consideration their capacities. So we had many students who were not talented and therefore quite bored with studying, not because they didn't like the arts, but because they couldn't really improve as they didn't have the talent necessary. Some of the wealthy students were even quite naughty and more interested in their cellphones. Our teachers, some of whom survived the genocide are quite old and found these kinds of lessons exhausting and fruitless. We concluded that although we had helped reach out to many children in Kampot and had given a generation of young people knowledge about their cultural heritage, we were not really preserving traditional culture which is one of our vision and mission elements and we were not able to concentrate on those children who really wanted to learn and who were often from poorer backgrounds.

What did we do?

We went back to the beginning. We went back to our original Outreach program of helping poor and disadvantaged children from local villages who demonstrated talent and a true desire to learn. You may be wondering why not reaching out to hundreds of students and only teaching around one hundred / one hundred and fifty students would be considered preserving traditional culture...... This is because traditional Cambodian arts have been passed down orally from master to pupil for the last one thousand years. They were not written down and only now attempts have made to record music and dance for future generations. Cambodian music has survived for example because it was used in Pagodas for traditional Buddhist ceremonies, for classical dance, for weddings and for funerals. Musicians (except for the Chapey players) work in ensembles and perform for these ceremonies. It is a living art and is preserved for future generations when young Cambodians learn how to play instruments properly to a professional level. The same applies to the Yike and traditional dance.

Today we are teaching really poor children and adolescents, some with disabilities. All love their lessons, work hard and have the capacity to become tomorrow's professional artists. Many of them come from families affected by alcoholism and  gambling addictions and the arts for them is the only way out of poverty and destitution.

We will be changing the title of our project soon and updating our information, but we wanted to share the changes with you first.

Thank you.

Pin Peat music
Pin Peat music
Playing the Roneat
Playing the Roneat


Waiting to perform at our school
Waiting to perform at our school


Where we come from


Beyond our program to help orphaned children, (some affected with HIV and epilepsy) and our blind children, we also help very poor children and youth from local villages on the outskirts of Kampot.

Many of our village children come from very difficult circumstances, not only because they are poor and some of their parents have gone to Thailand to earn a living, but because many have family-members who are addicted to alcohol and to gambling. Many of Kampot's youth within the town are addicted to drugs and to glue-sniffing, because this is a society which has broken down after one of the 20th century's worst genocides. The Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot from 1975 - 79 forced the entire population into the countryside, creating vast concentration camps. There were no hospitals, medicine, clean drinking water, mosquito nets, nor sufficient food. Thousands perished from disease and starvation and thousands more were tortured and put to death, until a pre-war population of 6.8 million lost nearly a third of the populace. Adults suffering from Post-traumatic stress have never had relief and the Cambodian government has never really bothered to promote the truth or create reconciliation, because some of their top members are former Khmer Rouge. 

Why should the arts, especially music be of importance when children are poor or after a genocide?

Because music and the arts can express that which words cannot.

When a person has difficulty expressing their grief, frustration or anger they can speak through music or dance. When a child is faced with poor role-models and a crumbling society, then coming to learn music and art to a very high level is like a beacon of hope and light for them. Music and art can actually lift depression and anxiety and is good for mental health as well as emotional well-being.

The children and youth from local villages come when it's raining or when the weather is fine and they study really hard, they want to be artists and they want to be professionals. Already the older, teenagers help our Pin Peat master perform for religious occasions in the Pagoda and have begun earning money and the older Mohori students can assist their master to perform at weddings.

When we do our Traditional Shadow Puppet performances, they assist us with our Pin Peat music. Recently we hosted the Official Ceremony of the International Kampot Writers and Readers Festival and our students came to help our resident students in the important performances we had to give.

Finally, because Cambodia's ancient cultural heritage was so badly destroyed, teaching it to the next generation helps preserve it. Modernization is good, but keeping one's cultural identity is good too.

Dance students with our resident students
Dance students with our resident students


Artistan puppets made by students
Artistan puppets made by students

If you go into rural areas in Kampot, away from the main road, you will find many people still without electricity and running water. None of the water whether in the city or the countryside is drinkable without being boiled. Children often go to school barefoot and sometimes miss lessons to work in the fields and assist their families.

Due to lack of government policy regarding the past and the Khmer Rouge genocide (1975-79), there has been no form of truth and reconciliation. An entire country has been left to overcome enormous traumas while their former perpertrators go free. The result is not suprisingly a mess. Many older generations suffer from PTSD and have affectivity, gambling and alcohol problems and issues with violence. The younger generation of Cambodians has felt the effect and too many middle class youth have drug, gangs and glue-sniffing problems. There is also an ever widening divide between the rural poor and the wealthy ruling class, with ordinary people dispossessed of their land, forests decimated and people's livlihoods along with it. Many people in rural areas are desperate to create a better life for themselves and their children and some leave their children behind with elderly relatives and head for Thailand to work there, sometimes never to return.

Outside Kampot town, there lies a village called Phum O' Toch, where there are children who struggle to get by day to day, because some of their parents are not only poor, but have alcohol and gambling addictions. They would very much like to come and study at our school. Our Pin Peat teacher lives nearby and discovered that many of them are naturally very talented artists. For them coming to our school would mean receiving serious vocational training, shaping their futures as professional artists in traditional Cambodian music, dance and shadow puppetry. However many of them are too poor to own a bicycle and are fearful of coming home from classes at our school by themselves in the evening on the main road from Kampot. They would like to come and study at our school if we can provide them with group transport. Coming to our school also means receiving a hot meal, medical care and help for the poorest and most vulnerable of the children, making a big difference in their lives. Please visit our micro-project to support their transport costs for this year.

Rithy* is eleven and has been a scholarship pupil and would really like to continue his studies. He is a very talented Pin Peat music student and last year performed at the first International Writers and Readers Festival as well as several other official events. He used to come and eat at our school and sleep there too, when things got too rough at home. Sometimes he didn't know when his next meal was coming, because his parents were out gambling. He loved coming to our school. However financial support for our programs has dwindled and because our school could not provide transport any more, Rithy could not come. We would really like to continue supporting and teaching Rithy and all those children from Phum O' Toch who dream about coming to our school.

Thank you for all the support you have given and your kindness and generosity through all this time. Please spread the word about this project to make it possible for our village children to have free lessons at our school too and create a real future for themselves.

Thank You!

*To protect his privacy, Rithy is not his real name.

Traditional Folk Dance!
Traditional Folk Dance!


Making Traditional Khmer Shadow Puppets
Making Traditional Khmer Shadow Puppets

Dear Supporters,

Thank you for thinking of our school and providing so much generous support. We send you our heartfelt greeting and thanks from Kampot!


This month I would like to dedicate both project reports to one very special staff member. All our staff are Cambodian and each person is special, doing much more than just looking after our children or teaching, but really working with great integrity and a lot of love.

It can be quite challenging to work at our school:- We care for blind children, a little blind and deaf boy, orphaned children with HIV and orphaned children who have no-one left to care for them, we also give free arts training to four hundred local children, some very disadvantaged and some with physical and mental disabilities.

Today I would like to pay our respect and honour a very special teacher - Loak Kru Samoeun*. He is our Mohori ad Plein Ka teacher and has been with us for nearly twenty years!

Born in 1946 in Kandal Province to a farming family, Loak Kru Samoeun became fascinated with Cambodian music in his teens. He then studied Mohori music with the elderly musicians near his village, quickly learning both this beautiful music form and it's relation Plein Ka (Wedding Music). Traditional music dating back to the empire of Angkor, a thousand years ago. He became a professional musician, performing at ceremonies and weddings in the Province of Kandal. This happy period was during the Sihanouk era, but disturbances began when General Lon Nol gained power in a coup and fighting erupted between government forces and Khmer Rouge Maoist guerillas. 

Loak Kru Samoeun was forced to flee along with many others when US B 52 bombers carpet-bombed central Cambodia and Khmer Rouge fighting erupted. Living near Phnom Penh, Loak Kru Samoeun was once more forced to flee when the Khmer Rouge gained complete control over Cambodia and entered the capital Phnom Penh on 17th April 1975. The entire population of the capital, along with towns and cities all over Cambodia were forced out of their homes. Even the sick and the wounded lying in hospitals were pushed out on their beds, anyone found left behind was shot. Children got seperated from their parents and people died by the wayside as the mass exodus into the countryside began. 

Loak Kru Sameoun together with other young Cambodians, cut through the countryside trying to avoid Khmer Rouge patrols and living off fruit and vegetables from abandoned gardens. They were finally captured by the Khmer Rouge, blindfolded and their hands and legs tied and put on a boat and taken to a prison. Prisoners were interogated daily and anyone found having worked formally for the olde regime, or who had worked as a doctor, engineer, teacher or educated person, was led away and executed. Loak Kru Samoeun survived despite being a musician, because he had not worked much in Phnom Penh, but came from a farming family in rural Cambodia. After one month's imprisonment he was freed and made to go back to hsi birthplace to forced-labour there.

First made to till the fields with oxen, he was beaten by the Khmer Rouge because his thin, small frame was not adapted to the physical strength needed to plough. He was then made to form a group of six and take care of an enormous vegetable plot of six hectares. Armed only with watering cans, with no rest and no proper solid food, under a burning sun, for three years he went back and forth from the Mekong river to water the huge piece of land. Although his parents survived, being themselves farmers, they were stripped of their land and forbidden to eat their own produce. The Khmer Rouge made everyone eat communally a rice gruel, punishing by death anyone who dared to pick fruit, vegetables or catch fish for themselves or their families. People tried to survive by eating raw lizard and mice as they worked in the fields, but this was also punishable by death.

When Vietnam invaded Cambodia and in 1979 chased the Khmer Rouge back to their remote strongholds in the mountains and jungles, the Cambodian people were free to try and find their homes and see if any of their loved ones had survived. Of a pre-war population of 6.8 million, up to 3 million were killed, executed or died of starvation and disease. Every family in Cambodia lost members and not one family remained in tact.

Ninety-percent of Cambodian artists, both popular and traditional were killed. Some famous singers were exectued at the very beginning and beautiful dancers were decapitated. Only seven great music masters and five famous ballerinas survived.

Loak Kru Samoeun was called by the Cambodian Government in 1981 to come and help teach in Phnom Penh at the Royal University of Fine Arts and perform at the National Theatre. All surviving artists were called to help re-build their heritage and piece together using their memories this once great culture. Music and dance was not written down and artists had to try and remember despite their trauma and piece together their knowledge to re-create their cultural and artistic heritage. Happily Loak Kru Samoeun also married and has a son and grandchildren.

In 1990 - 94, (Catherine) the founder of the Kampot Traditional Music School - Khmer Cultural Development Institute, went to teach violin at the Royal University of Fine Arts by request of the Dean, because there were not enough teachers left alive. Loak Kru Samoeun saw Catherine as a young girl and their paths crossed, but neither knew that later on she would build a school in Southwestern Cambodia and that he would come and teach there! In those days there was still civil war and life was very difficult, few foreigners ventured to Cambodia and artists knew each other.

In 1997, Loak Kru Samoeun was officially invited to teach on the Mohori and Plein Ka program at the school and permission was granted by the Ministry of Culture and National Theatre.

I would like to take this unique opportunity to honour and thank Loak Kru Samoeun for all he has done and is doing for our school. For the love and care, infinite skill and patience and for his humanity and gentle nature through all these years. Today he also teaches our blind children and has imparted in them the skills to become professional musicians.

Thank You Loak Kru Samoeun!


* Out of respect for his privacy, I have not given his full name.

Some of his blind students
Some of his blind students
With the local Cham community
With the local Cham community


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

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



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Organization Information

Khmer Cultural Development Institute

Location: Kampot Town, Kampot Province - Cambodia
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Catherine Geach
Kampot, Cambodia
$10,871 raised of $20,000 goal
317 donations
$9,129 to go
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