Preserving our culture.

Mission: Using arts as a transformative way to build self-esteem and to deter risk-taking behaviors, through performing art, bookmaking, and storytelling.

The major goal of this project is to bridge the gap between the various generations, whose relationships are becoming more and more distant.

Background: Many years ago, a young Cambodian-American girl got hooked on reading myths, legends, folktales and fairytales of the Western World. Being only a teen then, she didn’t know what to do when she frequently had the urge to find and read any literature available for young people in the Khmer language. She longed to read myths, legends, folktales and fairytales of her country of birth.

After being involved in the non-profit and cultural world for about five years a reminder that she had a dream came along by way of an invitation to attend a Storytelling Workshop held at the Salem Peabody/Essex Museum in Massachusetts. She thought to herself, “This must be a sign!” Of course she accepted the invitation! Her experience at the workshop reiterated her interest in myths, legends, folktales, and fairytales and she was able to learn more about storytelling as an art, even though she knew that many years ago, storytelling by the elders had been commonplace in the villages of Cambodia.

Since then, focus and planning groups met informally over dinner on how to bring the young woman’s dream to reality. The members of this focus group included Im Sok, a participant of the Folktale Workshops in Salem; Kowith Kret, a well-known gentleman in the Lowell Cambodian community who had hosted local TV shows as well as a current radio show host on WUML; Niem Nay-Kret (yes, wife of Kowith Kret), Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Bilingual Advocates, Inc.; Kent Mitchell, Dean of International Arts at Middlesex Community College; Jan Arabas, Graphic Arts Professor at Middlesex Community College as well as a skilled Book Binder; Rick Ochberg, Associate Professor of Psychology at Lesley University and an experienced oral history interviewer; Sandi Albertson-Shea, Professor of English at Middlesex Community College; and Sayon Soeun, Executive Director for Light of Cambodian Children, Inc.

The result of the focus group was a two-year pilot project in which high school students would be invited to join the program. There had been a strong need to bridge the gap between young people and their parents and grandparents in the Greater Lowell communities. The project’s goal was two-fold. The first goal had been to create a book or series of books on Cambodian tales while the second goal was to help bring young people closer to their cultural tradition of storytelling. Art has been shown to help the wounded heal, and this was another opportunity to utilize its magical healing benefits – in this case to help open the doors of communication between troubled teens and those of the older generations in the Cambodian community.