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Cambodian celebrities show heart of gold

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Actress Soda Nita with At Ban and Kao Kim in Kandal Province. Photograph: supplied

 

Wearing a pair of skin-tight jeans and black t-shirt, singer and actress Soda Nita jumped out of her SUV and went to sit on the motorbike with other two women. Her bare face, without make-up, made her look like an ordinary girl. The three women head to a shabby hut of an old couple in Kandal Province’s Kong Koh village.

With her simple outdoor style, the 26-year-old starlet took a 40 kilometre trip to bring some food and money that she raised from her own foundation to elderly couple At Ban and Kao Kim. Despite their advanced age, they have tirelessly struggled to raise two children with mental illness.

The old couple could barely raise enough of an income to feed their children, and At Ban had also lost the use of one of his eyes. The singer learned about the poor family from a local magazine.

“After reading about them, I decided to go down to the village with a few members from my foundation,” Soda Nita says. “We were happy to be able to help them.”

After receiving 200 dollars and some food supplies, At Ban and Kao Kim both joined their palms in thanks before wishing the singer: “Good luck, good health, happiness, longevity and success in your career.”

On her way back home, the smiling Soda Nita looked similar to some of the garment workers in the citybound traffic, traveling back from visits to their parents in the countryside. It was interesting to see the sexy goddess on stage transformed into an ordinary country girl.

In the past, local stars were known for their obsessive adherence to perfect looks while on stage. In older Cambodian films, it is impossible to divine the social status of the characters in the movie without an understanding the Khmer language and the local context.

Farmer characters would wear heavy make-up and sport gold jewelry, just the same as characters from elite families. By contrast, the current trends in the local entertainment industry has been for producers to try to win the hearts of their audience by depicting their characters realistically and stirring the emotions of their viewers through a film’s narrative.

Scandals, revealing photos and a dedicated investment in style are not the only tricks that Cambodia celebrities used in addition to their talent to gain fame – now many local celebrities have embraced a win-win strategy, seeking approval from their fans by helping society through charity.

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Soda Nita denies being motivated to help the poor for any reason other than genuine feelings from the bottom of her heart, and says there are no ulterior motives behind her actions.

“I don’t do social work to gain fame,” the actress and former beer garden singer said. “I help other people because I believe that what little money I have can make a big difference in the countryside, where people only need food to survive.”

Meanwhile the singer, who is known in local circles for a love affair with a French-Cambodian man, also announced that she will try to raise more money to help the elderly and orphans.

Besides Soda Nita, singers Preap Sovath, Oak Sokunkanha, Meas Soksophea and Khemarak Sereymon – all of whom are in the top tiers of the local pop music industry – have also worked hard to participate in charitable enterprises within their busy schedules.

Every year on International Children Day, Preap Sovath, one of the highest paid singers in the industry who garners $2000-3000 per onstage appearance, always gives something from his earnings back to Cambodian society.

Last November, he and the TV presenter Youk Chenda went to Prey Sar prison to pay a visit to the children that lived in cells with their parents.

“I am happy and proud to be part of this society,” said Preap Sovath. “As a Cambodian citizen, I like to help orphans and the elderly. My fans give me lots of love and I need to share this love with other people.”

Sos Mach, the head of the Cambodian Artist Association, said that he is happy that Cambodian artists are active in social work.

“I’m really proud of the artists who are grateful for the support from other people,” he said.

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