A blind student learning the Chhing
What We've Been Doing Recently
In December, the Kampot Department of Social Affairs requested us to take into our care four new children. The children come from remote rural areas in Dang Tung District in Kampot. We happily welcomed these children, two boys aged 10 and 12 years and two sisters, girls aged 8 and 10 years.
The two girls in particular had severe health problems when they arrived at our school. Their parents had died and they had been left in the care of a female relative, however the relative neglected them both physically and emotionally. On arriving at our school, they were suffering from malnutrition and poor health. They both had so many lice in their hair, that their heads were bleeding and infected. It proved impossible to comb out the lice or use medication to cleanse their hair, because there were literally thousands of lice. In the end we had to cut off all their hair and then treat the infections caused by lice bites and itching. Their few items of clothes brought from home, were also embedded with lice and eggs and we had to unfortunately burn them. We of course bought new clothing to replace the old ones. Our staff think that if the children had not come to our school in time, they would have died from malnutrition and complications due to lice-related infections.
We took them to the hospital where they received check-ups, vitamin prescriptions and vaccinations against Polio, Tetanus and Diptheria. The youngest girl suffered from frequent fainting spells and so was visited by both a heart specialist and a psychologist. The doctors diagnosed post-traumatic stress and advised our staff how to help the little girl.
Two months later these two little girls seem completely different people, they are now healthy, happy and play cheerfully with our other children, enjoy going to school and love singing and learning dance.
Our two new boys have also settled in well into our school and are enjoying their new friends, studies, music, dance and drawing.
For us, these episodes go to show the reality in rural Cambodia today. Although the Cambodian government is encouraging more foster homes, many cases have shown that Cambodian society in general, is not yet ready to take on this kind of responsibility. There is still a long way to go before the social consious develops sufficiently to take proper and loving care of children who are not care-giver's own children.
Exchange Program with an Italian Primary School
Our children have been having fun with a long-distance cultural exchange with paintings and pictures from an Italian primary school and a Skype call. Where both groups of children performed their own music to each other through Skype. Our Cambodian children then prepared their own pictures and greetings for the Italian children.
Visit to the Minister of Culture
The founder of KCDI together with teaching staff went on the 16th February, to visit the Minister of Culture and were received by her in an official ceremony to give thanks for the many years work KCDI has done to restore and preserve traditional Cambodian culture and performing arts and with very vulnerable children. The Ministry of Culture is struggling to protect it's cultural programs in the face of anarchy and general corruption in Cambodia.
Our New Music Program for Blind Children
In December I was contacted by an Australian man who is himself blind, about the plight of 10 blind children in Kampot Province. This remarkable gentleman and his Cambodian wife are helping provide clothing and food to these children. Together we are partnering to meet the different and complex needs of these children.
Meeting with our staff, we decided to assist these children by providing free music lessons in Mahori music. Tragically in Cambodia there is very little attention given to the needs of blind people. Although Braille has been introduced relatively recently, there is no national program which provides vocational training and job possibilities to people with this disability. Many blind people are destined to live their lives on the street, begging.
Through the tuition of Mahori music, we would like to provide these children the possibility of a professional vocation through music, so that they may form their own Mahori ensemble when they are older. Mahori music is performed with mostly stringed instruments, apart from the drum and the miniature cymbal. This music is used for festivals and celebrations, but also a branch of Mahori is used for weddings, "Plein Ka". Musicians sing through the wedding ceremony and traditional music is considered so important, that without it the wedding is considered incomplete and inauspicious. We have also offered our school space for any of these blind children wishing to receive computer and technological training.
During my recent visit, I was deeply shocked to discover the huge rift between the rich and the poor. A divide which has steadily worsened within the last ten years, with poor people worse off than they were a decade ago.
There are many reasons for this situation. Perhaps the first is the lack of democracy in Cambodia with the same prime minister (apart from a brief interval of 3 years) in power for over 30 years. The second is the massive corruption that takes place. Cambodia once rich in natural resources and minerals, has been stripped of copper, gold, stones and timber and these materials long with the wealth accumulated from the sale of them has gone out of the country, with no investment made in the country itself, so that there is no proper sanitation, infrastructure. Mega villas stand next to tiny huts and in Phnom Penh the back streets are filled with dirt, never cleaned and with, in some areas, open sewers running through them. No thought or planning has gone into this once beautiful city, just a race to get as much money and power as possible.
Together with large foreign business companies, many from SouthEast Asia, the country has been plundered, leaving forests and hill-sides bare and eroded like dusty deserts, rivers poisoned by luxury tourist resorts and ordinary Cambodians dispocessed of land and homes, as the rich and powerful forcefully take their land. Little islands are bought up to be used as luxury resorts.
There is less and less land for Cambodian people. There have been so many landgrabs that in some areas people can no longer cultivate rice, yet rice is being exported in ton loads, the price of rice, the staple food of Cambodians has gone spiralling up and up. The luxury lifestyle of rich foreigners and corrupt officials in Phnom Penh has pushed the price of food up so high that many ordinary people cannot afford to eat properly. Our school is also struggling to buy enough food and rice.
Without proper rule of law and the plundering of resources by Cambodians and foreigners, so too has the dreadful practice of trafficking and abuse of women and sexual tourism with minors. Even Kampot still beautiful, thanks to the vision of the governor, is however prey to drunk and drugged tourists.
Here our school stands after 21 years, still focused on helping children from the poorest and most difficult backgrounds and to remembering and conserving Cambodia's traditional culture and performing arts; not for tourists, not for the corrupt, but for the millions of ordinary Cambodians struggling to live decently and who still love and still cherish their cultural heritage.
Please help us. Last year we only raised a fraction of what we really need to run our school, which is $45,000. Yet our budget is very small if you think that we help up to 20 orphaned children in residence, give free music lessons and coaching for 10 blind children, give free tuition in the arts to over 400 very poor children from rural areas and free music tuition to 20 highly talented scholarship students. We have no wasteful expatriate overhead salaries or costs. All your donations go directly to our project.
Please Donate as quickly and as generously as possible, that we may continue running our school and helping so many.
** Permission was granted to take and display photographs of students and staff
Some blind students during Mohori practice