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Would you like to practice yoga while raising funds for Cambodian creative writing? Our last karma yoga class to do so for October is tonight at 5.30PM. Throughout October, the Wednesday Karma Yoga class with teachers Julie and now Melissa Lingo has been by donation to creative writing charity Writing Through.

At Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel, supporting Cambodians to develop their creative art skills is important to our mission. Writing Through provides creative writing classes to Cambodian students to achieve goals of literacy, self esteem and conceptual thought.  Creative programs are often dismissed as non-essential in education. However they are a crucial part of cognitive development. As our last October Karma Yoga class is upon us, we asked author and Writing Through founder Sue Guiney a few questions about the foundation’s work. Join us tonight to contribute to this awesome project.

When and why did you start Writing Through?

Writing Through grew out of a workshop I had been teaching at Anjali House in Siem Reap nearly seven years ago. I had come on a family holiday in 2006 to build houses in a rural village, and the experience opened my eyes to both the beauty and the tragedy of this country. I am first of all a writer of novels and poetry, and I knew right away that I wanted to write about Cambodia, and so I wrote a novel, A Clash of Innocents, which became the first in a trilogy of novels set in Cambodia today (the second is Out of the Ruins, and the third is in progress).

After that first novel was published, I knew I wanted to give something back to the people who inspired me so much in the first place. That was the origin of the workshop. After a few years, though, other NGOs throughout the country started to hear about me and ask me if I could run my workshop for their students. I knew then that there was a real need, and that I couldn’t do it alone, so I officially founded Writing Through as a charitable enterprise, just over a year ago.

What does arts education mean to you/to your participants?

I am a huge believer not only in the value, but the crucial importance of arts education. I have seen first hand how people without exposure and some training in the arts literally can not think. We are all born with the ability to create and that includes creating concepts and new ways of perceiving our world. But without arts education, none of that can be developed.

How does poverty and Cambodian history impact on people’s ability to participate in the arts in Cambodia?

After the Khmer Rouge, Cambodians had to recreate and rediscover their traditional art forms, and it has taken a combination of determined Cambodians and foreign help to make that happen. Traditional dance, drawing and music are now finally finding their place in Cambodian life. But passing those arts on to a new generation takes time and money, two commodities that most Cambodians don’t have.

I also believe that a society needs its traditional arts in order to create new ones. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. But it is hard to think about creating art when you are struggling to survive. This is especially a problem in the written arts where an entire generation became illiterate. Reading for pleasure (or at all) didn’t exist for a very long time, and so imaginative writing was impossible. This continues to be a struggle. And as I said above, a society which can not participate in art can not think. That is what Writing Through strives to counteract.

What kind of artistic endeavours most appeal to your students?

We use the writing of poetry and stories in English to achieve our goals of English literacy, self esteem and the development of conceptual thought. It’s incredibly rewarding to see our students continuing to write creatively even after our workshops are done!

What would you say is one thing travellers should do when they come to Cambodia?

Venture outside of the temples and see the countryside, which really is the beating heart of the country. I can’t wait for Cambodia to move from being a 3-day stopover during a trip to Thailand and Vietnam, to being the main event!

How does fundraising contribute to Writing Through’s development?

We are a predominantly volunteer organization which generally gives away its programming. It is impossible for many of our partner schools and NGOs to pay even the small administrative fee which is required to keep us going. Fundraising, therefore, goes directly to our ability to expand and bring our programming to more and more students.

What change have you seen in arts education since Writing Through?

Do you have any examples of outcomes for participants? Slowly, NGOs and some public schools are beginning to understand that it isn’t enough to only teach English and computer skills. For examples of what we do, we have PDFs of magazines and are preparing an anthology to be published in 2017. But the best thing of all is to come to one of our big events and see our students read their works aloud and literally find their voices.

If you could influence one thing about the Cambodian education system, what would it be?

Make school full days and pay teachers a living wage – oops, that’s two things.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Join us. We are always looking to train more facilitators – and you don’t need to be a teacher or a writer. Just someone with a love of connecting with people through language, and a sense of fun.

Join Baby Elephant for Yoga

Looking for a yoga class and a glistening pool to dip in afterwards? Baby Elephant is a Siem Reap hotel where you can enjoy a yoga class then use our outdoor waterfall shower to freshen up before hitting the pool and enjoying a smoothie or a bite to eat.

Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel is waiting for you – click here to take a look at our relaxing rooms, all with free breakfast and use of our gorgeous swimming pool.

Which Siem Reap or Cambodia-based charity or NGO should our Wednesday yoga class support next? Let us know which we should include on our list – leave us a comment below!

Writing Through photo courtesy of Writing Through.

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