Our History 20 Years Ago
Our school, the Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children (Khmer Cultural Development Institute/KCDI) was built in 1994 after being ratified in 1993 as a Cambodian NGO. We are celebrating 20 years of activity since the opening of our school all those years ago! To celebrate we will be tracing the lives of some of our earlier students until the present day.
Looking back, those of us present in 1994, remember the extreme difficulty in building our school under siege during the Cambodian civil war and the early afternoon curfew at 3pm imposed on all traffic from the capital Phnom Penh to Kampot, 137km Southwest. We remember the Khmer Rouge who had their stronghold in the neighbouring mountain of Phnom Vor and the terror and damage they inflicted on the local population. Many of our children resident at that time were orphaned because of Khmer Rouge attacks and so many of them, including our staff suffered from traumatic stress. How difficult it was then too, to go into isolated villages with representatives from the Department of Social Affairs to interview children requesting assistance at our school. Everyone was terrified of being caught in a Khmer Rouge ambush!
We remember too, how difficult it was to convince donors of the importance of traditional Cambodian culture and how traditional music was seen by international donors as an unnecessary ornament. Later on of course, UNESCO was to declare traditional Cambodian culture as “World Intangible Cultural Heritage,” and it then became the “fashion” to have art schools. None the less we were the first serious cultural school to be built outside the Royal University of Fine Arts and with the blessing of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and with the participation of great Cambodian masters from the Royal Palace and National Theatre. The founder of KCDI herself was a teacher at the Royal University of Fine Arts having graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in London as a violinist. This connection between artists greatly helped further respect and understanding between Cambodian musicians and the founder’s dream of restoring and preserving traditional Cambodian music and culture.
Although the civil war is over, yet so many Cambodians suffer the after-effects of the genocide and the prolonged war of attrition. Children today are often orphaned and abandoned because of AIDS and because of psychological traumas suffered by their parents.
Sombat came from Takeo Province and from a difficult family situation, He came as a little boy in 1994, joining our very first group of children at the Kampot Traditional Music School. He was both good at academic studies but also very good at music and learned Pin Peat music (sacred ensemble) specializing in the Roneat Ek instrument. He learned firstly from the great Master Toch* who died in around the year 2000 and who was one of the last great Masters left alive after the Khmer Rouge genocide. After his retirement, Sombat learned with another great Master, Meas* from the National Theatre and Royal Orchestra.
Sombat graduated from the Kampot Traditional Music School in 2002, having gained his lyceum Baccalaureate II certificate. He went on to study at the University of Phnom Penh in agricultural studies, but he was soon to be appreciated by the Ministry of Culture and after his graduation at the University he was employed by the Ministry of Culture.
Sombat was one of few traditional musicians able to notate and document traditional music, a skill he inherited from his Master Meas. He was employed by the Ministry in their documentation program of rare music. He went on to work at the Royal University of Fine Arts, as a Pin Peat teacher and also as one of the Royal Musicians at the Royal Palace.
In around 2009, Master Meas retired from the Kampot Traditional Music School and returned to Phnom Penh, nominating Sombat as his successor, a great honour, considering the high standard and exactingness this Master had for the tuition of Pin Peat music.
Sombat has been teaching at the Kampot Traditional Music School KCDI since 2009. He married his high-school sweetheart and they now have two young children aged 4 and 2 years.
*For the protection of privacy, the names of individuals have been changed. Those photographed have given their permission for their photograph to be used in this report.
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