More than just a Kampot cafe, Epic Arts have been using creativity to expand horizons for disabled and non-disabled participants for 15 years, with the simple but powerful message that every person counts. While the situation is ever so slowly improving — though with little effort from the government — services for people with disabilities are very poor in Cambodia, particularly for those with learning disabilities. The Epic Arts Cafe was set up in 2006 as a source of opportunity and as a model for inclusive business. The purpose-built Arts Centre opened three years later.
Epic’s inclusive education programme serves special needs students who attend classes five times a week, with transport provided. The Peace class is for students under 15 years old while those aged 15 to 28 attend the Independence class, developing new skills and increasing self-confidence through interactive lessons including art, cooking, dance, handicraft and gardening. Parents of younger children get involved in the classroom, and parents are educated in how to support their kids.
A two-year Inclusive arts course in visual arts, literacy and theatre for deaf, visually-impaired, disabled and non-disabled students has also been created. Modules include drama and theatre, creative movement, music, film-making and visual arts, plus lessons in Khmer and English literacy. Students learn to work together, respect each other, and identify their strengths.
One of Epic’s success stories is Ly Chin Chok, a young Khmer man with Downs syndrome who never learnt to speak. As is commonly the case in Cambodia for people with learning disabilities, for his first 19 years, Chok was considered to be stupid and a nuisance by many in his community. He now speaks sign language and has his own arts and crafts brand.
Running social enterprises helps Epic Arts to support their activities, meaning that their programme is more stable and less prone to donors’ whimsies — the curse of many an NGO. All the better for everyone, as well as tasty breakfasts and coffees, there’s a shop of creative art products and the fabulous Epic Encounters, a fully inclusive contemporary dance company which puts on paid dance and theatre performances across Southeast Asia.
Four times a year, Epic Arts puts on community performances — if you happen to be in Kampot at the right time, you’re in for a treat. Visitors can also attend weekly Cambodian sign-language classes free of charge, and practise their new skills with deaf staff at the cafe. An interaction with Epic Arts is likely to make you feel inspired, humbled and above all, happy.
We challenge you to watch the following video without having a smile break out. They’re really doing some fabulous work.
Travelfish’s contribution of A$100 will provide a month of free meals for Inclusive Arts course students.
Occasionally a Travelfish.org writer selects a charity or non-government organisation that they believe does excellent work on their patch in Southeast Asia. They write about them and we donate $100. If you’re looking to give back, please consider giving a little cash as well.
By Abigail Gilbert
Last updated on 6th March, 2016.