The Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children (KCDI), was the first specialist music school to be built outside the Royal University of Fine Arts in Cambodia. The school was founded by British-born violinist, Catherine Geach, from the Royal Academy of Music and ratified as a local Cambodian non-governmental organization in 1993. The decision to build the school was made in 1991 after the founder teaching at the Royal University of Fine Arts saw at first hand the struggle to revive ancient Khmer music following the Khmer Rouge genocide when perhaps many as 90 percent of all Cambodian artists were killed.
The extreme poverty of Cambodia at that time combined with the ongoing war made it imperative that the music school should provide care, scholastic education and vocational training to the most vulnerable children. At that time Kampot, in Cambodia’s remote southwest was badly affected by civil war and the presence of a Khmer Rouge stronghold in the neighbouring Phnom Vor mountains.
The school currently houses seventeen orphaned children and teaches a further 400 local disadvantaged children from the wider Kampot community.
However, at present the school risks closure and all those children who reside at the school and who have no parents, have nowhere to go. The school’s Cambodian staff are completely dedicated to the school and they have chosen to work without a salary rather than see the school close despite the fact that many come from poor backgrounds themselves.
Those orphaned children resident at the school receive food, clothing, medical care, scholastic education from primary school to university level, vocational training and of course specialist training in traditional Cambodian music, dance and Yike theatre. For students graduating there is a special transition program to teach them how to become music instructors and run their own performance groups as well as supporting them through the first year of University.
The 400 primary school children who attend the school on a daily basis, receive free tuition in the performing arts, both as part of their wider social development and as a specific vocational training. Both residential and community outreach children participate in examinations to prepare them for eventual entry into the Phnom Penh University of Fine Arts.
Because of the global economic crisis, the school has found it harder and harder to find donors. Though the school raises money for itself by giving official performances, has its own fundraising website, sells its own CDs, grows its own fruit and vegetables, it is still not enough to support the school in all its needs.
Yet traditional Cambodian music and dance, have been declared World Intangible Cultural Heritage and indeed the Kampot Traditional Music School is considered by the Cambodian Ministry of Culture a role model for the rest of Cambodia. In 1995, the school received a prestigious UNESCO prize, namely the World Decade for Cultural Development Award given to the best performing arts institutions.
Recently the pupils were invited to perform a première of the Bokor dance, specially choreographed for them at the National Theatre. They have also been invited to perform in Vietnam, Qatar, France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.
Many of those who have graduated have gone on to be professional artists, as well as economists, entrepreneurs and businesswomen.
Despite reaching out to so many children and having such a strong impact in Southwestern Cambodia, the school does not have a big annual budget, mainly because there are no expatriate overheads or salaries. All members of the Board of Directors work on a voluntary basis. All funds go directly to the project.
For further information and to find out about the school’s current Appeal, please visit their website www.kcdi-cambodia.com .