FROM the tiny Ta Hen village of north-east Cambodia – a war-torn country recovering from years of domination and genocide, where more than a third of its population live below the poverty line – has come a group of young, inspiring dancers.
The hope-filled troupe recently performed at Catholic schools in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne on a national tour, Dance together for peace, co-sponsored by Jesuit Mission and Ignatian World Youth Day program organiser MAGiS08.
Accompanying them was Cambodia’s Battambang diocese Bishop Enrique (Kike) Figaredo, a Spanish Jesuit who formed the group in 2000 and has been working with them in the region since the late 1980s.
Initially comprised of 14 students, the class now has more than 150 dancers and musicians aged between four and 20, who practise each day in an effort to rebuild their ravaged culture.
“One of the worst consequences of so many years of conflict was the erosion of Cambodian self-understanding,” Bishop Kike said.
“Music and dance groups are helping reassert this national identity by recovering myths and stories of the life of the people.”
Proceeds from Dance together for peace will go to Jesuit Mission projects in Battambang, some of which provide scholarships for children to attend secondary school, buy land for those who have none and supply costumes for the dancers.
While in Brisbane, the dancers also performed at St Rita’s College and Marist College Ashgrove, and were guests at a reception hosted by Brisbane archdiocese’s World Youth Day Secretariat in the grounds of St Stephen’s Cathedral.