Make Art, Not War.

Starting about 2 years ago, when Jennifer Ley first visited with the idea to introduce students to art, we’ve been continuing this effort to have “art day”, when anyone was willing to bring the supplies and lead a class. The students generally like to draw, and over time, a few of them have really made themselves noticed with their enthusiasm and ability.

We took some are supplies to these particular students and then for a few weeks had them come to the house to do some drawing on Sundays. We sort of have this idea of setting up a gallery for them to display and possibly sell their works at the guesthouse gift shop.

It’s difficult to hand anyone some blank pieces of paper and paint and say “draw something”, without any training, understanding of what they’re doing, etc. Jaz and Sovan, long-time volunteers for the PLF,  gave the students a presentation to introduce them to various kinds of art and artists, but beyond that, they’ve had no real training.

Help us change that!

Bringing them to town is expensive; there are two groups of students from two remote schools. It seems it might make more sense to hire a local (khmer) art teacher and send him/her to the schools on alternating sundays. We think we can do this for about $100 per month We think supplies would run about $20-30 a month for all the students. So, if any of you out there think you can swing about a $400 donation, we could potentially get these budding artists some basic art classes for a few months and get them going.
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When we look at priorities and realize all the very basic needs these students are often missing, it’s always hard to put “art” at the top of the list of things to worry about, but after spending some time with these particular kids, we see their passion, their potential and their enthusiasm and we feel compelled to find a way to give it some legs.

Please meet the students and then have a look at what they’ve produced so far.

Pisey

Pisey is a 13 year old sixth grader at Knar Primary School. He has a younger sister and brother. His mother, 46, has also taken in three young orphans into their family. The first, a boy they found  on the road whose family couldn’t be located.  The other two are siblings from a nearby house whose parents died about six months ago. Pisey’s father, 41, is in the army and has been located in Preah Vihear, about 280 kilometers (174 miles) away, for the past three years. Pisey’s mother is very busy, taking care of six young children, selling gasoline, drinks, and cigarettes at her small shop along the road, and rice farming. Being the oldest, Pisey helps around the house by feeding their ducks, raising catfish, and planting and watering mango trees, winter melon, and morning glory. His mother is very thankful and proud of how helpful her son is. Pisey loves to paint in any free time he has. He paints temples, King Jayavaraman VII, and draws pictures of his younger siblings to send to show his uncle.

Chairath

Chairath is 15 years old in the sixth grade at Knar Primary School. She is one of eight siblings, ranging in the ages from four to twenty-three years old. Her mother and father, 43 and 47 respectively, are rice farmers. They keep most of the rice to eat within the family, but if they have extra then they’re able to sell some. They also plant a small amount of garlic, basil, and pumpkins. They own seven cows and are able to sell any calves that are born. Chairath’s mother and father studied until second and fifth grade, respectively; they were never able to finish. Her older brother, 23, stopped school in the 9th grade and went to live with his grandmother. Her mother expresses the difficulty of the children studying when they don’t have enough money to earn for the family. Chairath and three of her other siblings are currently in school and their mother hopes they will be able to continue.  Chairath’s younger brother is six years old and he took a serious fall when he was about 14 months old. It seems his legs aren’t developing correctly and he is unable to walk. Currently he isn’t attending school. Chairath spends her free time bringing the cows to the rice field and looking after them, doing laundry, and cooking rice. Chairath hopes to be an English tour guide someday. She is most proud that she recently got number one in her class of about fifty students. She enjoys painting landscape and nature.

Ly Yu

Yu is 15 and is in the sixth grade at Knar Primary School. She is one of five siblings aged fourteen to twenty-one. Her mother died when Yu was ten years old. Yu’s father says she was “sick with a big stomach” for five years prior to her passing.  Yu’s eldest brother, who is now 21 and living far away with a family of his own, stopped studying at grade five in order to help work at the farm when their mother was sick. Yu’s father owns a farm which he made by himself by clearing the forest. Unfortunately it’s very far away so he hires a taxi to bring him there, stays for two weeks or more, comes home for a week, and continues to repeat that schedule. He grows only enough rice for his family, not enough to sell. The days when he is at home he goes to get palm juice and makes and sells palm sugar. He spends two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening climbing 20 palm trees each day. He’s usually able to make about one dollar a day from this. Yu’s father emphasizes the importance for his children to study. Yu spends her free time growing potatoes for her family to eat. She also draws every day; she enjoys drawing fish and people.

Srey Lang is 14 years old in sixth grade at Knar Primary School. She is one of seven siblings ages eight to eighteen. Her parents, 45 and 46, live over 50 kilometers (31 miles) away at their farm. They’ve lived there for four years and they only come home for holidays or special occasions – often it’s just the mother who comes. Srey Lang’s mother works in the farm, but her father has been blind since the Khmer Rouge era so he stays at home to help around the house. Srey Lang now lives with her aunt and uncle (also farmers), siblings, and cousins – a total of nine people in the house. In her free time she helps clean the kitchen, cooks rice and soup, and does homework. She hopes to become a Khmer teacher in the future but voices her concern that she won’t be able to because she won’t have enough money for any higher education.

Srey Tehk, 15, is in sixth grade at Knar Primary School. She is one of nine siblings, seven of whom still live at home. The other two are farmers who live over 50 kilometers (31 miles) away. Her mother and father, 45 and 49 respectively, are rice farmers as well. Her father also goes into the forest to cut firewood to sell. Srey Tehk and her siblings sometimes go to their neighbors’ houses to dig land to make a bit of money. She also brings cows to the rice fields to look after them. Srey Tehk’s mother studied until grade four, and her father never studied at all. Her older brother only studied until fourth grade and then had to go to the hospital to get an operation due to his swollen neck. By the time he was out of the hospital he was afraid to return to school because he had fallen too far behind. Srey Tehk’s parents’ health is still severely suffering from the Khmer Rouge era. Both of them are blind in one eye and the mother’s whole body is in constant pain from a lodged bullet in her leg. Srey Tehk hopes to be an English teacher in the future. She enjoys pencil sketching mountains.

Srey Leak is 13 years old. She’s in sixth grade at Tchey Primary School. She lives at home with nine other family members: her parents, six older siblings, and her grandmother. Three more siblings have left home and are married. Nieces, nephews and cousins who live nearby come over every day to visit. Srey Leak’s mother, 47, makes straw baskets at home to sell in the market. She can make two in one day, and sell them for 75 cents each. Srey Leak’s father, 51, brings bulls and cows to the rice field to work. Srey Leak’s older sister, 29, works at home making skirts to sell in the market or at ceremonies. In one month she can make ten skirts, selling them for six dollars each. Her parents never studied past the third grade because of the Pol Pot regime, but Srey Leak and two of her older siblings in school hope to be able to graduate. In her free time, Srey Leak helps her parents clean the house. Sometimes when they’re running low on money to study, she goes to the rice field to pick up bull feces to sell. Srey Leak says she enjoys sketching temples, ancient houses, mountains, and rice fields. She says she might want to be a waitress someday.

Srey Leak is 13 years old and is in 6th grade at Tchey Primary School. After being sick for one month with an unknown illness, her father died when Srey Leak was six years old. She has ten siblings and she is the second youngest. Five older siblings are married and out of the house. They were never able to finish school because the family didn’t have enough money at the time. Five of her other siblings are studying in school now and their mother hopes they will all have the chance to finish. Srey Leak’s mother , 53, usually makes bread snacks at home and goes to sell them in the market; although recently she’s been unable to work due to health problems. She was never able to study beyond third grade because of the war but expresses that she wants Srey Leak to “finish school, gain knowledge, and do what makes her happy.” Srey Leak says she wants to be an accountant someday. In her free time she helps water and weed her and her relative’s plant fields. She enjoys painting and drawing landscapes.

Chem is 14 years old. He’s a sixth-grader at Tchey Primary School. His father has been a soldier since before the Khmer Rouge era, and now works as security at Angkor Wat temple. Chem has four siblings from age 6 to 15 and they’re all attending school. His mother, 41, never had the chance to study past the 4th grade. Now she makes bread snacks at home and goes to sell them in the market. She says in the future she wants Chem to “gain knowledge from school and work to help the family.” In his free time Chem helps clean the house, cook rice, do laundry, and for fun he plays games with his friends. He says he’s very surprised and proud that he was chosen to be involved in this art project.

Sarouen is eleven years old and attends Tchey Primary School in grade 6. He was born in Banteay Srey District, about 47 kilometers (about 29 miles) away. Now he has lived at the Siem Reap Orphanage Center since he was about five years old. His mother is still alive, but with his father gone she isn’t able to take care of him and his two older siblings. One of Sarouen’s older siblings, 15, is also living at the orphanage. The oldest, 17, is a monk. Their mother is now 41, living in Banteay Srey as a home nurse. There are thirty-one children living at the Khmer-run orphanage, all attending school. Sarouen enjoys watering and digging the land they have in the yard where the students grow corn, peppers, eggplant, basil, and numerous other vegetables. He also enjoys playing games in the center’s field. Sarouen likes to draw pencil sketches, especially of Angkor Wat. He’s proud of his good grades in school and hopes to be an English teacher someday.

Sey Ha is 14 years old. She is in the sixth grade at Tchey Primary School. She lives only with her mother and one older sister. Her two older brothers have left the house. The oldest, 29, works in the town cleaning motorbikes. None of her siblings were able to finish high school because they didn’t have enough money. Sey Ha’s father died eleven years ago after he had been sick with an unknown illness. Sey Ha’s brother-in-law works selling sugar cane juice. Her mother, 46, makes and sells corn to people around the village. She never attended school and is illiterate. In her free time, Sey Ha brings the cow from the rice field and looks after it. She has no bicycle, so she walks about a mile to school and a mile back six days a week. For fun she likes to draw and says someday she’d like to be either a painter or a doctor.

Ratana is 11 years old. He attends 4th grade at Wat Bo School. In the future he wants to be a doctor and we think it’s entirely possible that could happen. Ratana is the oldest of three boys. He lives in Steung Thmey Village with his grandmother in  while his two younger brothers live with his parents in nearby Kong Moiuch Village, where his father, who is disabled with a disfigured leg, has a small motobike repair shop on the side of the road.  His mother helps her mother in law selling newspapers near the Central Market in Siem Reap. Ratana can wash his own clothes and everyday prepares his bag before going to school by himself. We find Ratana to be a very snappy dresser and very well groomed. He likes to draw, particularly cartoon action figures and sometimes he likes to “draw the picture from his imagination”.

Remember, these children did not grow up with crayons, play doh and fingerpaint. They never had their early stick men drawings hanging on mom’s fridge. Their homes are not full of art pieces or art books.  These first attempts are purely organic and spontaneous; we said to some students  “here take this paint and go draw something” and here’s what they did!
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