Take Back the Night 2012, Koh Kong!


Only two weeks in, and already June has been an eventful month. The first weekend was the national commune elections, and I was happy to see the political hubbub finally die down. But the very next weekend (after a week of my being sick) was the event which has been months in planning.

Click the link below to open up the full post and see photos of the event! ^_^

On June 8th, we loaded up all our shirts, art supplies, and volunteers (eleven Khmer, five American, plus two drivers) and made the six hour trip into the mountains to the border of Thailand. Upon arrival, we explained the battle plan, passed out our spiffy new volunteer t-shirts, and hit the hay.

Take Back the Night 2012 was held in Koh Kong provincial town on June 9th. From the beginning, I could tell we were going to have to be very flexible– but what Eileen and I lack in organizational skills we make up for twofold with spontaneous problem-solving ability. Dearest MTVExit had a last-minute change of venue (that we figured out on our own) which threw a small wrench in the works, but we quickly resolved it. Thank goodness for a) Khmer language abilities and b) Khmer volunteers! Our event was up-and-running by 9:30 on the riverside of Koh Kong, which was actually a very breezy and beautiful spot. As soon as the art supplies went out, we started attracting a lot of attention. Within a half an hour we had dozens of people (especially high school students) creating amazing works of art, expressing thoughts on everything from human trafficking to DV to substance abuse (and even some random environmental messages…don’t ask me).

As the shirts went up on the line, things started to take shape. A visitor from Thailand happened by our project and was so impressed by the art that he donated about $30 worth of Thai money to us!

By lunchtime the crowd began to die down as the heat of the day forced all of us into the shade. (It was too late for me– I was already toast! The sun was intense there!) With supplies and space freed up, a horde of little kids moved in and went crazy making art. Kids– well, Cambodians in general– are art-starved; access to supplies is only part of the problem. People are just not encouraged to explore their creative sides, self-expression, etc. around here. Once they get going, though, they really cut loose.

The afternoon saw another huge crowd, mostly of young people, come to make and view t-shirt art. There was a brief rain shower, but it didn’t put a damper on things. Then it came time to select five shirts whose makers would receive prizes. After a debate about how to choose the “best” shirts, we decided to let the crowd vote. The prizes for the “top” five? Two phones, a badminton set, a soccer ball and jersey, and a makeup set. But we were careful to explain to the participants that just because their shirt did not win a prize didn’t mean it wasn’t good– we plan to use all of these shirts for part two of this project: an art exhibit in Phnom Penh, to be viewed by many people, foreigners and Cambodians alike.

In spite of the fact that everyone was covered in paint, glue, and other art stuffs, we managed to get everything cleaned up as the event started to wind down. It was a long, hot, but satisfying day; a success, if I may say so, myself. And many lessons learned, too. We were invited to come back by many of our young participants, who wanted to “make more art!”

On Sunday we took a trip to the local mangrove forest before heading back to Phnom Penh. The park also had a “watchtower” with a great view of the forest and the river. We enjoyed a meal of crab, squid, and other local cuisine after our hike in the woods, and then it was time to say goodbye to Koh Kong. It was my first trip to Koh Kong (along with many of the other volunteers), and I would definitely love to go back and explore another time. More pix of the event and our whole trip can be found here. Photos in this post were taken by Eileen and myself, so ask either one of us to see more.

Now, there is absolutely no way this event would have been a success without all of the people who helped us, in many different ways.

Thank you, first, to the volunteers who went with us last weekend: PCVs Andrea (K4), Emily (K3), and Christin (K5); Peace Corps staffers Makara, Chantrea, and Vanny; our two patient drivers; students Vuth, Roat, and Sovann; Virak and his wife; Jentee and Aileen; and Sokneang from GADC. Your energy and creativity made this a great (not to mention fun) event!

Just as important as the Kampuchea efforts were the donations of funds and art supplies from Stateside. A huge thanks to: Meg McCormick, Leah Johnk (thanks Ma! ^_^), Luis Vargas, Eileen’s family and their friends from church, and everyone who offered advice and encouragement. Thank you, thank you.

This was a fun project, but I know we can do it even bigger and better next time around. Eileen and I are already talking over plans, discussing the feedback we’ve received, and bouncing around ideas for next year’s TBTN. We would love to hear anyone’s suggestions, ideas, or feedback from volunteers/participants. Comment on this post or email one of us:

johnk.dna@gmail.com

pcvmccorm2@gmail.com

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