Cambodian orphans share in cultural exchange

Rob Hail
Rob Hail

By Howard Dashefsky - bio | email

KAIMUKI (KHNL) -- A few Hawaii high schools had a first hand lesson on life in Cambodia.

The teachers were 30 young orphans from Cambodia who had visited Hawaii this week. They represented the largest group of Cambodian orphans to ever visit the United States. The Email Foster Parents International Program brought them here to take part in a cultural exchange in Hawaii.

It was all part of the 2008 Cambodian Children's Cultural Tour in Hawaii. As part of their curriculum, they learned Hawaiian traditions and shared their own traditional Khmer dance and music.

"It works both ways, the Hawaiian families learn so much about life in Cambodia and what it's like now that it's trying to get back on its feet," said coordinator Rob Hail.

The Khmer dance is an art that nearly became extinct under Cambodia's brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, which saw the execution of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians. "During the 1970's, about 90 percent of dancers were slaughtered and they're native dance was almost lost. So this is a chance to revive it," said Hail.

One of the orphans, Reaksmey Chan, marveled at the freedom American students enjoy. "It's really great because the schools get to learn whatever they want to learn. It's not like Cambodia. They have a chance to enjoy everything, it's really good" Chan said.

For some of the orphans, the experience was almost like celebrating a birthday for the first time. "I want to thank uncle Rob and auntie Susan for making my trip and my dreams come true," said orphan Napha Po.

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