Dear friends and supporters of our school,
Thank you for your continued support and interest in our activities. We are so grateful for your kindness and generosity!
Normally our reports focus on our children and what's going on at our school. As you know we have multi-layered programs, we give scholastic education, full-time care and traditional Cambodian music and performing arts to blind children, 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 children, including very disadvantaged children and deaf and disabled youth. Our programs also help girls and focus on their higher education.
But who are the marvelleous people who give all that care and training, who dedicate not just their teaching hours, but their lives to the care and education of so many children? One of them is Loak Kru Samoeun*. Loak Kru means "Master" and comes from the Sangskrit "Guru" , because older teachers are greatly respected in Cambodian society for the knowledge and skills they possess.
Loak Kru Samoeun was born in Srok Sau Kik in Kandal Province in 1946. He grew up in a farming family and his parents tended their rice-fields and grew vegetables and fruit. As an adolscent boy Loak Kru Samoeun fell in love with Mohori and Plein Ka music. Beautiful music played on different string instruments and dating back a thousand years. He studied from the elderly musicians near his village and within a very short space of time he became a gifted musician and began working on a professional level, performing at ceremonies and weddings all through the Sihanouk era and the Lon Nol regime, until US B 52 carpet bombings and Khmer Rouge guerilla incursions forced him and many others to flee to near Phnom Penh.
On April 17th 1975 when the capital Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, the entire population of the city and indeed towns and cities all over Cambodia, were forced to leave their homes in a gigantic exodus, including the sick, wounded and the elderly and infirm. Loak Kru Samouen and other young Cambodians like himself made their way back to their villages of origin. Avoiding Khmer Rouge patrols, they cut accross the countryside and to survive picked fruit and vegetables from the abandoned fruit and vegetable gardens. He was captured by the Khmer Rouge along with ten other Cambodians and blind-folded and his hands and legs tied and put in a boat and taken up river to a Khmer Rouge prison where he was held for a month. Each day the Khmer Rouge interrogated prisoners and those who had worked for the previous regime, or who were doctors, teachers, engineers or people from Phnom Penh, were led away and executed. Loak Kru Samoeun survived because he came from a farmer family and not an educated intellectual background. He was eventually released and allowed back near his village where he was put to forced labour.
First he was made to plough fields with oxen, but his slender frame and lack of food made it difficult for him to physically resist the effort and he was then whipped and beaten and sent to work in giant vegetable gardens. Together with six others he had to tend six hectares of land, going back and forth from the Mekong River to water (with only watering cans) all the fruit and vegetables on the huge plot of land. Starving from lack of nutrition and given only gruel, he, as all other Cambodians were forbidden on pain of death to pick vegetables or fruit, catch fish, or even eat lizards, mice and frogs. The "New people", those originally from the cities and towns were targeted by the Khmer Rouge and were executed in large numbers together with their families, including babies. Again Loak Kru Samoeun despite being a musician, was lucky enough to be considered a farmer and though ill and starving was not specifically targeted by the Khmer Rouge, nor were his parents, although many family members died of starvation and disease.
When finally the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and after ferious battles the Khmer Rouge fled into their mountain and jungle bases, the Cambodian people could return to their homes and try and find their loved ones. A third of the population perished and every family lost someone, some as many as nineteen family members, even King Sihanouk.
Nintey-percent of Cambodian artists died, most executed, including popular artists and traditional ones. It is said that the much loved singer Sim Sissomath was forced to dig his own grave before being executed and Prince Sihamoni's dancing partner, the beautiful daughter of Yeah Khan was decapitated. In 1981, as one of the few survivors, Loak Kru Samoeun was called by the Cambodian Government to come to Phnom Penh and teach at the Royal University of Fine Arts and be a performer at the National Theatre. There were no proper salaries at the beginning, but he was paid in rice and food and together with a scattering of artists, he pieced together their lost heritage.
He married and had a son and is now a proud grandfather.
In 1990 and 1991, when the founder of the school (Catherine) came on request of the Dean of the Royal University of Fine Arts to teach violin in the Western Music Department, Loak Kru Samoeun saw her and their paths crossed, although neither would know at the time that Catherine would build a school in Southwestern Cambodia and that Loak Kru Samoeun would come and teach there!
Loak Kru Samoeun was formally invited to come to our school in 1997 and was granted permission by the Ministry of Culture and National Theatre to do so.
I wanted to tell this story in hommage to this lovely, humble and greatly talented man and wonderful human being. Dear Loak Kru Samoeun who has taught so painstakingly and patiently many many students, all of whom love and respect him and who with great skill and insight has taught our blind children to perform at a very high level, that they may have a future as professional musicians too.
Thank You Loak Kru Samoeun from the bottom of our hearts!
* In respect for his privacy I have refrained from writing his full name.
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