School theatre an innovative approach to Khmer Rouge history

“The Courageous Turtle” is an educational play funded by the German government which has been performed 64 times since November, and which has proven so successful that the initiative is set to expand to classrooms and community centres nationwide this year. Nicolaus Mesterharm, founder of the Meta House German Cambodian Cultural Center, says about the project: “Young Cambodians don’t know much about the Khmer Rouge, surveys underline that too few students are genuinely interested in the topic.

“Like a turtle in its shell” is an old Khmer expression, referring to feigning ignorance in the face of injustice. Mesterham decided to stage a play based on this idea, “because the turtle only makes progress if it sticks out its neck.”

For over a quarter of a century, Cambodian peoples waited for justice. The on-going Khmer Rouge tribunal at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) aims to provide justice to Cambodians who died, and to those who survived. But the trials are also there to educate Cambodia’s youth about one of the darkest chapters in Cambodia’s history while many youngsters enjoy the modern Cambodia and look to the future wthout facing the history of their country.

Even as teachers broach the subject in class, students tend to ignore it. To contribute to rehabilitation, the “Cambodian-German Cultural Association” (KDKG e.V.), Meta House and its NGO partners “Youth for Peace” and “Khmer Arts Action” have developed this innovative school theatre project, support by funding from the German “Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen” (IFA). “For the first time in Cambodia, theatre is used as an educational tool. It is widely understood that the arts have the ability to create change and impact lives. Arts integration fuels creative thinking, and research proves that students are more engaged in learning when the arts are used as teaching tools.” Says Mr. Mesterharm. or