Champani youth in Cambodia find creative ways to promote their culture amid the pandemic

Members of Champani community during a learning session. Source: Facebook

A youth group in Cambodia has found creative ways to promote the Champani language and culture through online initiatives.

The Champani group is originally from the ancient territory of Champa (the current central and southern Vietnam). There are over 30,000 Champani people in Cambodia, who are also known as Cham Kan Imam San. The majority of them are currently located in the Cambodian provinces of Kampong Chhnang, Pursat and Battambang.

In recent years, the group has maximized online platforms like Instagram and Facebook to rasie awareness about their unique language, script, and history.

Global Voices talked to Teyaorm Mas, a member of the Kan Imam San Youth for Development (KIYD),  a group dedicated to strengthening community volunteerism in order to preserve Champani tradition. The group was established in 2011 and they currently have around 30 active members who do a range of community care activities including assisting the elderly Champani members and organizing Online Cham language classes.

KIYD produces short videos and online learning materials which are posted on social media. Teyaorm Mas shares examples of what they have been producing:

Our content usually shares about our traditional ceremony, KIYD activities in the community such as environmental protection, Online Cham class (peer teaching happens twice a week), supporting older people and others.

SosTey, one of those who participated in the online Cham language classes wrote about their experience during the pandemic:

During COVID pandemic and lockdown, I am able to keep myself going sane with online language classes and Cham is one of them. Cham is my origin and one of the most enjoyable and proudest languages for me.

Together we can improve and learn. Let's go forward together to keep our language alive!

Online Cham language classes are conducted through Zoom. Source: Facebook

Teyaorm Mas shared some of the challenges they face in their work such as “limited social media outreach, lack of human resource to create initiative and bring (Champani) masterpiece to the world, the influence of foreign culture, inadequate funding to strengthen capacity and support Cham class in the community, and absence of a learning curriculum/learning module for the younger/next generation to start learning the language.”

She added that some elders are also reluctant to share knowledge with the younger generation “because they believe some information will be harmful to share,” which is linked to the “trauma of war” experienced by the older generation.

Despite these difficulties, they persist in their advocacy and even partnered with global groups to achieve their mission. For example, they highlighted Champani culture when they took over the Instagram page of Global Voices for a week in August.

Teyaorm Mas summed up a few lessons from their online campaign:

We have learned that more people are keen to know about us on a deeper level and they enjoy watching what we produce, which is the motivation for our group to keep on our mission. Secondly, we have taken from the community for so many years, so why not spare a couple hours each week to give back what we could contribute by preserving our culture and getting more people around the world to know us. We believe that it is worth investing some time for the community by starting small, but making many impacts.

KIYD plans to improve and expand their online and offline activities:

We are committed to enhance our online Cham class to be more engaging and entertaining so that more youth will enroll in the class. More importantly, we just kick started our own documentation project in which we are trying to record the sound of the reading/singing of the elder people from the ancient books we have. We wish to preserve those treasures and we extremely need support to make it possible.

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