On volunteering: Planning for a sustainable outcome

Myself and Jess skyped with Cathy yesterday, and in addition to having a good chat and a bit of a laugh, I made the point that we have been very busy – the good kind of busy!

Last week our CLA contact, Seng, shared a list of possible tasks for myself and Jess, which partly involved working with troupe leaders on improving their English skills, teaching them basic computer and admin skills, and teaching them skills in presentation for effective communication. Strictly speaking, these types of skills are not exactly arts-based, however, as Seng has informed us, they are highly important for ensuring the survival of traditional art forms in Cambodia, particularly those which are endangered. The responsibility for me and Jess, then, was to look at effective ways of teaching these skills. Thus, we have been planning for sustainable outcome of our three-week placement. In doing so, we are also attempting to minimise some of the problematic effects of short-term volunteering.

Therefore, our proposal is an event where the troupe leaders, Pon and Pri, from Sounds of Angkor, along with member of traditional Cambodian Shadow Puppet Theatre, Tip, will present to a school, as well as an audience of art groups based in Siem Reap on two separate occasions. The event will involve Pon, Pri and Tip introducing themselves, describing their troupe’s art form, and playing and describing their instruments (all in English).

The event is based on the premise that initiating or enhancing an understanding of traditional Cambodian art forms for school students, visitors and tourists will contribute to its survival as an integral part of the Cambodian culture. By presenting to a school and art groups in Siem Reap, Pon, Pri and Tip are moving beyond practicing in a comfortable environment with me and Jess, and preparing for presentations to visitors and tourists, for example, at hotels or workshops through CLA. Not only does this event bring together art groups in Siem Reap, which Seng has noted to us should occur more regularly, it also enables myself and Jess to incorporate and teach multiple skills as part of the process of establishing a sustainable outcome. Hence, this project is an effective way to make use of our time in Siem Reap.

Our scaffolded process for the event thus far has focused on Pon, Pri and Tip achieving the following:

  • Greeting visitors and tourists
  • Introducing who they are and what they do
  • Describing the instrument they play in their troupe
  • Describing their troupe’s genre of music

In greater focus, for example, I have been working with Pon, the troupe leader for Kantoaming music (see my previous post). I based lessons on scaffolded questions which we first discussed in conversation. Subsequently, Pon wrote down his responses and together, we adjusted some sentences that could be improved. Then, Jess guided a role-play for Pon to practice presenting this information. In addition, me and Jess have been compiling activities and resources in an indivvidual workbook for Pon, Pri and Tip, to ensure they can revise the work and skills covered on this three-week placement.


Although my summation of some of our work here is somewhat simplified, by no means does it accurately represent the time and hard-work on this part of the project. I know for both myself and Jess, the great progress that has already been made by Pon, Pri and Tip is wonderful to see! However, as Jess discusses, despite the fact our event seeks to teach skills and empower each student for beyond our three-week placement, there is a degree of uncertainty that this strong, positive intention is sustainable once we leave. What structures are in place? How often will the troupes rehearse and perform? Will the troupe leaders practice their presentation skills; how; to whom?

More to come from me on art and sustainability!

1 Comment

  1. Excellent post Matt! It really solidifies the goals we are trying to accomplish in our short time here!


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