The people of ASEAN-Japan

I want you to know what Cambodian children are up to now through their paintings! [Hiroko Measu]

Siem Reap province, where the ruins of Angkor Wat are located, is the second largest city in northwestern Cambodia. Ms. Hiroko Measu has been operating the foster care facility, “Snadai Khmer” in the province for more than 20 years. Every year, she holds an exhibition of the children’s paintings in Japan. What is her passion for this activity?

When children painted for the first time,
it was a magical experience

– Please tell us about the background of the children living in the foster care facility.

Until the early 2000s, most children in our facility were “economic orphans” living apart from their parents due to poverty. However, as Cambodia’s child protection policy gradually improved, it became apparent that some children were facing more difficult conditions. Today, our facility has children who need support more earnestly, including abused children or children with no relatives.

– I see that art classes are on the class schedule at your facility.  

Many public schools in Cambodia do not offer art or physical education classes, but Snadai Khmer has integrated painting classes since 2008. For children who had never painted before, learning that mixing paints produces a variety of colors seemed to be a very mysterious and exciting experience. The facility is surrounded by rich colors, such as blue sky, sunlight, moonlight, fruits and leaves of mango and banana, and red flowers of Indian coral tree. It was refreshing for me to see the children enjoying themselves as if they were experimenting and wondering like “which colors should I mix to get closer to this color?”

Everyone focuses during painting time. Without any restrictions, the children freely draw whatever they want to draw.

A Japanese student who interacted with the children,
years later, takes his child to the art exhibition

– What motivated you to start art exhibitions in Japan?

I wanted the people of Japan to see the children’s paintings, which suggest a bright future and to know what the children of Cambodia are facing now. I also intend to sell paintings and other items to cover a portion of the operating costs of the facility.

Custom-made goods based on paintings. All proceeds go toward operating the facility.

– I heard there are many repeat visitors.

Some people purchase a painting of the same child every year to keep an eye on the child’s growth from distant Japan. Also, there is a college student who used to visit Cambodia every summer to interact with our children. After started working, he brought his spouse to the art exhibition in Japan, and he finally brought his child to see the exhibition this year. Then, he said, “I would like to visit Snadai Khmer with my child one day.” It was an event that reminded me of the meaning of steadily continuing to build the bridge between Cambodia and Japan.

Snadai Khmer is a second family. After being independent, some alumni bring their families to visit the facility.

– Children’s paintings give the viewers a warm feeling.

Many people ask, “why are abused children able to paint such cheerful and freewheeling paintings?” I myself have also wondered how they are able to remain cheerful despite their traumatic experiences. What comes to my mind  is the open environment for parenting in Cambodia. This may be because the people think they should raise children in the neighborhood, for example, if a child is beaten by a parent, a neighbor steps in to halt the beating. Also, the people of Cambodia, even in serious conditions, have a sense of humor and a kind of toughness as if to say “if you stay alive, you’ll get through it.”

Everyone carries firewood. The facility is filled with a relaxed atmosphere, with everyone helping each other.

In the future,
it shall be “by Cambodians” as it literally means

-Please tell us about your future vision

Until then, I was leading the operation of the facility. However, several years ago, both the organization’s representative and the facility director changed to Cambodians. I am now in charge of the administrative office. The name of the facility, “Snadai Khmer” means “by Cambodians.” In the true meaning of the word, I would like to support the children’s growth through both support within Cambodia and from Japan, under the management of Cambodians.

At the exhibition, visitors can hear each child’s episode from Ms. Measu, such as “the fruits and animals drawn by this child are always smiling and laughing,” or “this child is in the midst of a rebellious stage right now.”

Hiroko Measu

Born in Wakayama prefecture in1974. After marrying and having a baby with a Cambodian man, she became the head administrator of the foster care facility “Snadai Khmer” in 2000 and the representative in 2011. Currently, she is playing a role in connecting Japanese supporters with Cambodian children as administrative office manager.

Snadai Khmer:

Interview & writing / Wakako Kurimoto Profile photo: Hiyori Ikai Photos of Snadai Khmer: Hiroko Measu

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Youth development Education Art

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