As part of its initiative to facilitate greater understanding of Cambodia’s infamous genocide among young people born in the 1980s, a youth-focused organisation launched a theatre project last year engaging both Khmer Rouge survivors and Cambodian youth.
Started as a month-long pilot project in October last year by Youth For Peace (YFP), groups of young people travelled across several provinces such as Takeo, Svay Rieng and Battambang to interview and gather stories from those who experienced the events in Cambodia from 1975-1979.
Chen Sovanny is one of the performers from Svay Rieng’s Hun Sen Svay Chrum High School. The 17-year-old, who will take part in another performance later this month, said, “I’ve learned much more about that regime. I had a chance to visit both Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek genocide museum. It was a good opportunity to gain understanding and show off my skills.”
With the visits and face-to-face interviews with people, these high school students and untrained artists work together to carry out Peace Theatre. “The aim is to show the role of youth and their participation in disseminating the history of the Khmer Rouge regime,” said Chhounni Synan, YFP’s project officer for justice and reconciliation.
Each 15- to 30-minute presentation features poems and songs that create a backdrop for the performance.
“We don’t take in professional artists to perform. Our performers are young people from the communities,” Chhounni Synan told Lift.
“The performance really helps ease the pain of many people who experienced the [Khmer Rouge] regime. I saw some old uncles were sobbing,” said 23-year-old-Yen Sey Ma, a third-year philosophy student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
The mission of FYP, founded in 1999, is to encourage and empower youth to take an active role in resolving community issues.
FYP is not alone in implementing this project, as the ongoing Khmer Rouge tribunal takes place in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) and Amrita Performing Arts also engage rural audiences in discussions about the Khmer Rouge through a programme called “Breaking the Silence”, which also integrates song and dance. The play is based on tales told by survivors and young people, bringing entertainment and education together to help raise awareness.