Breaking the cycle of poverty and preserving Cambodian arts -My day with Kasumisou Foundation

My day began bright and early with Juana – from Peru she is the local staff for the Family Support Program, Kasumisou Foundation. On 20 February 2012, over a breakfast of fruit, we discussed  a brief overview of her work and the day’s itinerary. I would be visiting several families benefitting from Kasumisou’s FSP program (those affected by HIV) and then visiting the Apsara Arts Prgoram where youth and orphans can learn traditional Cambodian dance, drawing, and music while not in school and during summers (instead of being on the streets).

The first family lived in a Buddhist Temple Pagoda that looked like this….

After the PolPot regime (Khmer Rouge) Buddhist temples began to welcome Cambodians without homes re-settling back into the city after being scattered among different provinces looking for their lost loved ones and for places to live. (Please Google the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge if you are not familiar.. I was able to visit the “Killing Fields” and the Tuol Sleng Museum, and will share photos in a later posting).

The first family consisted of a young boy, Pirron, affected by HIV and his grandmother who took care of him after his mother passed away due to the virus.  I asked her what her life was like before she was taken in by the Kasumisou foundation – she had been a beggar. Homeless and penniless she took in her grandson after his mother passed and was desperate because he was dying. At a local church they were introduced to Juana and  the Kasumisou foundation, and they were given a small stipend to pay for rent, for food, and education for the young boy. The conditions were she had to stop begging. When I met this family I would have NEVER imagine what they had gone through. She was proud of her grandson’s studies, smiling, and welcoming. I asked what hope she had for her grandson in the future, and she said for him to finish his studies and become a professional. He responded he hoped the same and loved working with electronics and electricity. His favorite subject was math. She now has a home, electricity (no running water yet), and with therapy the boy has lived to the age of 15. She now sells snacks and candy to the local community.

With Pirron, his grandmother, and FSP staff at their home

Now meet these two young girls who not only lost their mother due to HIV but have been constantly affected by it, and were adopted by their mother’s friend. One wanted to be a doctor “to help (listing everyone in her adopted family, the Kasumisou staff, and sponsorship family who is paying for her education) for free of charge” and the younger one followed with wanting to be a nurse “to help all of Cambodia”. One loved to read and the other draw. Her favorite thing to draw was.. Angry Birds! I was astonished and had to see her drawings- they were amazing. I told them how kids in the US also loved Angry Birds! At the end of the visit she gave me her prized angry bird and tom and jerry drawings. They practiced their english with me and showed me some of the dance and song they learned at the Apsara Arts program. These were two sweet and educated young girls with hopes and dreams. I asked Juana what was the likelihood of them receiving education to become doctors.. and she said the hope of Cambodia is for youth to graduate 6th grade, if possible 9th (14 years old). If they are very talented and have the funding then 12th. It is very difficult to attain vocational or university training here. That did not stop these girls from reaching for the stars.

Holding Smile’s Angry Birds Drawings

The final few families ingrained in me the strength of the human spirit. Sampao had been ostracized by her family when her husband died since she had HIV and was separated from her children. She was on her deathbed when Kasumso took her in and instead of accompanying her to die with dignity.. Juana was able to “accompany her to life”. When she never expected to live she now accompanies Juana home-visiting other families affected sharing experience and support. The next family was a mother and son both affected – all you could see was their joy and strength. The mother was able to work since she received therapy and he was a very naturally gifted artist – self taught drawing and painting with beautiful elaborate pictures of whatever he could get his hands on.  The final family’s mother had been blinded by the disease and was supporting her 2 young boys. Kasumisou provided her the opportunity to not have to turn to brothels to make money, but supporting her children through school and allowing her to focus on them.

Sharing fruit with mother and son during home-visit

How does it work? Kasumisou is no longer expanding but maintaining the current families. They support 110 orphans, 70 Family Support Prgoram families with 180 children,  4 in university and 3 in vocational school, and 9 orphans iving at the Apsara Arts Progaram. They provide food support, small stipend for rent/electricity/water, education, therapy whether it be for TB or HIV, and homevisit care- a holistic all-econompassing type of support to  break the cycle of poverty and provide opportunities for these youth otherwise without. The kids stay in the program for as long as they need. With hopes of focusing more on education for their children, their donor-focused funding is trying to find a way to become more sustainable.

The final leg of my site visit involved attending clases at the Apsara Arts Association.. a program for training youth whether oprpahned, poor or rich in traditional Cambodian culture. Kasumisou funds a summer program to allow their beneficiary children to spend their summers not in school learning Cambodian arts and not spend it in the streets. Kasumisou also donated the current training center.


Teaching Assistants performing (right is female dance and left is the male dance)


Please observe the 2nd child… the cutest 3 year old you have ever met

And I even was able to participate… I was dragged on stage even though I repeatedly oh-koon’d (thanked ) and declined but to no avail up I went…and then was guided with clear English 1,2,3’s throughout the entire dance…

Me attempting Cambodian Dance

It was wonderful to experience how those involved did not differentiate by age, race, or religion (some beneficiaries were Buddhist, some Christian, some “attended all temples to receive support and live long lives”) – it was about providing lives with dignity and breaking the cycles of poverty for future Cambodan generations. Although it is frustrating to see the common trend of constant dependency on dwindling donor support.. my hopes are that organizations find self-sustainability. Hopefully, these children will have the opportunity to attain all of their hopes and dreams… and even finish university.

About the staff I met: Juana’s background was in HIV family support in the US and for over a decade here. Sithen’s background is in accounting and business management supporting Kasumisou’s efforts with the Apsara Arts. Slim staff – but skilled, experienced, and dedicated. Sithen even went on to say if he ever has to take another job for some reason he would always be a supporter of and donate to Kasumisou.

To find out more about about Kasumisou Foundation click here. For more information on the Apsara Arts Association click here. The Apsara Arts Association hosts Traditional Cambodian performances on Saturday evenings.

 

Jacqueline
GlobalGiving InTheField Traveler | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

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