Ten American high school students are on a mission to help restore Cambodian art, dance and music.
The students from Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy in Arizona were in the Penh for two weeks to learn from Cambodia’s history with a particular focus on Cambodia’s slowly recovering art scene.
Professor Jeff Dyer, who helped organise the trip, said the aim was to involve the students in the revitalisation of Cambodian arts.
They will produce multimedia projects of their time in Phnom Penh, like an ongoing blog, a series of video documentaries on topics like folk dancing, wedding music, education and human rights in Cambodia, and a series of radio documentaries based on interviews with people they meet along the way.
“We hope to get these materials disseminated in the US and Cambodia, on radio and TV stations,” Dyer said.
They were working closely with Cambodia Living Arts, an association of master artists that survived the Khmer Rouge regime. The students were meeting and interacting with local musicians and dancers to help restore Cambodian artistic traditions.
“We also hope to sponsor a few local students with scholarships,” Dyer said.
“We may provide laptops to a few students or master artists. I also hope to fund a professional ensemble of classical wedding musicians in Phnom Penh - right now, old types of wedding music only really exist in Takeo and Siem Reap. And in addition, I would like to make this a yearly trip, coming back each year with 10 different students.”
On the weekend the students participated in a rehearsal with the Children of Bassac, an emerging professional dance group in Cambodia that performs traditional Khmer classical and folk dances every Thursday in front of the Tonle Bassac National theatre.
Besides following artistic activities, the students also had home-stays with local artists and their families, to learn from their lifestyle.
The grandmother of one of the dancers of the Children of Bassac group, Tep Ny, 72, opened her home to four of the students.
“The day they arrived, they had not used a bucket as a shower before,” she said.
“So I taught them how we wash ourselves. And of course I like to ask them about Arizona and learn more about their life over there, but as I don’t speak much English it is difficult.”