Project #13106

Free Arts training for 400 children in Cambodia

by Khmer Cultural Development Institute
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


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


In the garden
In the garden


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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Organization Information

Khmer Cultural Development Institute

Location: Kampot Town, Kampot Province - Cambodia
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Catherine Geach
Kampot, Cambodia
$10,734 raised of $20,000 goal
303 donations
$9,266 to go
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