Som Narath likes to spend his spare time studying art. He dreams of becoming a famous artist one day and is among many children and teenagers who regularly drop by NGO Colors of Cambodia to polish their artistic talents for free.
Wearing a white t-shirt featuring the organisation’s motto ‘Art will save the world’, the 18-year-old says: “My favourite subject is landscape painting. I love learning lights and shadow, darkness and lightness.
“I thank Colors of Cambodia for giving me the opportunity to learn and explore art for free in Siem Reap.”
Located near Angkor Hospital for Children and Kandal village in downtown Siem Reap, the organisation was founded by American artist and entrepreneur William ‘Bill’ Gentry in 2004 as a subsidiary of US NGO A World of Difference.
Bill had been living in Cambodia for three years before establishing the charity. He felt dismayed that Cambodian children were surrounded by a rich national artistic heritage but had no access to art supplies.
Honey Khor, area manager and art teacher at Colors of Cambodia, describes Bill’s ethos underpinning the organisation: “A 75-year-old French missionary once told Bill that Cambodia needed time, not money. This thought has remained in his mind. It is truly something to try and help others by giving time and knowledge, rather than money.”
Khor, a trained artist from the Malaysian Institute of Art in Kuala Lumpur with more than two decades of experience, has been teaching art to children at the organisation since 2007.
“Over time I have organised many exhibitions and events, and helped raise funds for Colors of Cambodia. I have also provided training for teachers and helped obtain sponsorship for 170 local Khmer students, which has enabled them to go back to school and continue their education."
“I believe that we should play our role and no matter how small our contribution is at least we have done something for those in need,” she says.
Khor is among a cohort of art teachers who have donated their time to providing free art lessons to children in Siem Reap.
“Colors of Cambodia’s gallery is situated near to Angkor Hospital for Children, so throughout the day Khmer children and young adults have access to teachers and art materials in the gallery. Without this, children would not have access to art lessons and materials, as art is not on the curriculum of most schools in Cambodia. Art materials and the teacher’s time are donated, free of charge, to schools,” she says.
“Art promotes creativity, it promotes confidence, problem solving skills, patience and determination, accountability, team work, the ability to give and receive positive feedback and dedication. These are the gifts that Colors of Cambodia offers.”
As well as teaching in schools, the organisation offers children around Siem Reap the opportunity to visit studios and galleries.
Thy Channarak attends art classes at the organisation every day, with some of the 17-year-old’s work proudly displayed in the organisation’s gallery.
“I really love music and art; I come to Colors of Cambodia almost every day. I have a lot of friends here and there are good teachers,” Channarak says.
The organisation also flies artists in from around the world to Siem Reap to help broaden student’s artistic knowledge and develop their creative capabilities.
“Several times a year artists from overseas [America, Singapore, Malaysia] visit the gallery to give specialist tuition in workshops, free of charge, to those children and young adults interested in further pursuing their interest in art,” Khor says.
Colors of Cambodia has also produced a series of murals for the Angkor Hospital for Children.
“Students of Colors of Cambodia, teachers and international volunteers have brightened the lives of many of the hospital’s patients over the last few years in an ongoing collaboration. Artwork by Colors of Cambodia’s students has also been shown internationally – in America, Malaysia and Singapore – to help generate sponsorship for the project,” Khor says.
An offshoot of the main arts programme is Colors of Cambodia’s sponsorship of children to attend school, providing equipment, shoes and uniforms, while a new programme has recently started to sponsor a small number of talented students enter into higher education.
Sor Sophany, who in her younger days was a student at the organisation, is now a teacher and project manager.
“I would spend every Saturday and Sunday studying at Colors of Cambodia, but with no expectation of ever being an art teacher. After graduating from school, I worked for a few years in banking and finance, but the Colors of Cambodia staff encouraged me to become a teacher. Like my previous teachers, I hope to inspire my students about the enjoyment and happiness provided by art,” she says.
For more information on Colors of Cambodia, you can visit their website (www.colorsofcambodia.org).