Kimheang Chham, Cambodian Scholar
Grade 12 (Class of 2016)
From 1–5 February, East Campus’ annual Asian Arts and Culture Week (AAC) celebrated Cambodia’s rich history of traditional art forms. Now in its third year, AAC aims to deepen understanding of a specific Asian culture by providing multiple perspectives on the arts of that country. Respect, empathy and a connection to the country are fostered through participation in activities such as workshops where students work directly with visiting artists from the focus country.
Layers of Cambodian culture were uncovered and explored through arts workshops, talks, demonstrations, games and performances. Workshops introduced students to a range of art forms including the kramas dance, lotus flower folding, pin peat music, coconut dance and, for the whole of Grades 1, 4 and 7 shadow puppetry art. Grade 9 and 11 arts classes were led by two visiting troupes: Epic Arts and Cambodian Living Arts (CLA).
Through performances by Epic Arts and CLA in assemblies across the schools, students had the opportunity to witness some beautiful physical and creative performances. The impact of the performances, which not only brought to life traditional arts such as shadow puppetry but also showcased a creative and thoughtful representation of Cambodia before and after the Khmer Rouge, was deeply felt. In addition, the libraries had educational displays and collections of books about Cambodia available, and the plaza was a hub of activity with lunchtime performances as well as stalls for raising awareness of the many Cambodian Global Concerns groups and their NGO partners.
The focus on Cambodia was particularly meaningful because of the deep connections our community has through our Global Concerns and NGO partners. It also provided an opportunity for the Cambodian students at East Campus to take pride in sharing stories from their childhood as well as their thoughts about the future of their country. They also shared culinary skills, talks, photos and hosted the visiting artists with kindness, patience and respect. Following, a Grade 12 Cambodian scholar who has been at UWCSEA East since Grade 8 writes about the experience of celebrating her culture through AAC.
Sharing my culture
This year’s Asian Arts and Culture Week focused on Cambodia. It was definitely a highlight of the year for all of the Cambodian students at East Campus, especially for two of us who got to see it before we graduate in May. I was fortunate to be involved in part of the organising process and was incredibly proud to be able to share my culture with the UWCSEA East community. There were so many moments that just took my breath away.
We had the privilege of having the Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) NGO on campus to run some workshops with students and to give several beautiful performances of traditional arts. On Tuesday, they performed Cambodian shadow puppetry for my grade’s assembly. That brought me to tears as soon as the music started, which reminded me so much of the beauty of Cambodian culture and how much I miss it. I couldn’t describe the feeling during that time; it was a mix of pride that my culture was being shown abroad to my classmates and of reminding me of the spirit of who I am and where I come from. I was amazed by the performance. It was also very special because many Cambodian traditional arts are in decline or are already lost after the Khmer Rouge; and it was my first time seeing a Cambodian shadow puppetry performance. Nobody in my hometown knows how to perform this art anymore and in the whole of Cambodia, being able to see such a performance is a luxury.
On Thursday of AAC Week, I presented my personal story about rural Cambodia and where I come from. During the mid-term break in October, I brought a group of friends from East Campus, who come from all over the world, back home with me to Cambodia. It was an incredible trip, both for the fun we had with my family and also hearing my classmates say that they had never seen anything similar before and that they all learned a lot. It was very nice to tell more people in school about the specific area where I come from, which is representative of life in rural Cambodia. I was so excited to tell the story during AAC and was also nervous. It was amazing to be able to share about where I grew up, which left me with such great memories, but I was also nervous to do it wrong because the town means so much to me. It was great to have support from friends, staff and even Junior School students at the talk.
On the last day of the celebration week, we had some Cambodian performances from CLA, Epic Arts and Cambodian students in the community along with some other students. It was another incredible moment to share our different types of music and dance. One of the best moments was when I started singing a folk song and a member of CLA joined me (I was very honoured to sing with him). Then many others from the audience and CLA joined us with dancing to show their support. That moment reminded me so much of what it is like when we celebrate arts and music back home in Cambodia. This shared musical celebration was an amazing way to end a very special week.
The slides from Kimheang's presentation on 'Life in rural Cambodia' during AAC can be viewed here.