Berk Chet a festival where we celebrate the inclusivity of the diverse groups in Cambodia.
27 March 2024 - phnompenh

Sur Sdey! Mony here, the program manager for Berk Chet Festival. I am here today to share with you some unique and meaningful experiences I got to have during Berk Chet Festival in Battambang and Phnom Penh.

Berk Chet meaning open heart in English really open my heart beyond words can describe, the initial plan was for us to create a festival that uses a hope-based storytelling approach to showcase and raise awareness of the amazing group of people who won the NOW-Us! Award Cambodia as well as other who works together with us to create a more inclusive Cambodia. 

The festival started in Battambang on Sunday 27th of September at this creative space for artists called Phare Ponleu Selapak. We started the festival with a workshop on expressing feelings through arts by our awardee Arts and Mental Health, we had participants sharing their understanding of feeling and mental health, it was quite emotional and heartfelt. One participant shared that “it was super fun! I didn’t expect to meet so much diverse community, it was very cool for me to learn about sign language. I myself feel that I get many emotional support from the event” 

The other two workshops we had in Battambang were learning sign language and learning about SOGIEsc, where I, myself and many of our participants got to learn what is sign language, a few simple gestures in sign language as well as what is sexuality? And the differences of it between sexuality and gender! It was such an insightful workshop.  

In between the workshops, we get to visit booths from many different organizations. One of my highlights at Berk Chet Battambang’s booth was a booth on supporting the elderly from HelpAge Cambodia. It really helps me reflect on myself when I age what social protection will I receive? I got to meet another participant while visiting the booths and we both shared conversations and one thing I was touched and remember from our conversation was “Berk Jet Festival is an amazing eye-opening to reach out to the diverse groups of people in Cambodia. It is an open space where people can come to learn and connect. Each session allows the participants to learn more about sign Language, beauty standards, etc. I love the way that the show focuses on the talent of a diverse community: People with disabilities, LGBTIQ+, Indigenous People. If we could have this kind of event every year it would be great.” 

The night fell and the concert was about to begin, the team and I was super excited to watch the performances and see some of our volunteers singing on stage for the first time. I also coordinated with the sign language team to translate the event agenda. We began the night with a speech and then a performance by a youth from Kampong Thom, it was so mesmerizing as they danced to the movement of the moon, I really enjoyed it. Then finally we got to see our volunteer youth sing on stage and the evening closed with Vis, our main guest of the evening. 

I can really feel the sense of community that evening, the sense of family, of no judgment, of love and open heart. I can confidently say that we Berk Chet that night and we celebrated the diversity of the creative city of Battambang. 

A week later Berk Chet came to Phnom Penh, we were busier than usual as Berk Chet Phnom Penh will be bigger and bolder than Berk Chet Battambang. The team had to work really hard together to put everything together as smoothly as we could in a week. And there was Berk Chet Phnom Penh starting at 2 pm on Sunday 3rd of September at Factory Phnom Penh. 

The workshops at Phnom Penh was no different than the ones in Battambang however, we added 2 new workshops besides the languages one, we had a workshop by the SAORI team teaching us how arts and craft can support people with disabilities, especially people with mental disabilities, we even get to try doing the weaving ourselves as part of arts and craft. Lastly, the workshop was about redefining the definition of beauty and we had an influencer as our panelist Bong Tomrong Pich, sharing her idea on the toxic beauty standard we have in Cambodia.

After the workshop finished, as organizers we were able to take a 1-hour break and during this time I went to talk with a few of the new booths that weren’t in Battambang such as a Booth from Green Lady Cambodia where she makes environmental-friendly menstrual pads and sexual reproductive health education to young girls in rural areas. I got to learn a lot of the menstrual pads and the work she does. Across that booth, I went to check out La Chhouk booth with their awarded project Srolanh Kon Jea Kon Digital Campaign, and it was so interesting as at their booth they are collecting stories and messages that people want to say to LGBTIQ+ individuals, I think this will be a concept for a video on their social media, I wrote some myself and super looking forward to see the final product of this activity.

After taking that short break, we are back to the evening agenda which is the concert! For Berk Chet Phnom Penh, we have 3 main guests which are; ChaCha, KESORRR and Vis. Of course, their performance was fantastic! The audience loved it so much and my heart filled with joy the moment I saw our deaf audience sign the lyrics of the song that KESORRR sings. An audience from the deaf community shared “It was my first time joining a concert that has sign language! For me as a deaf person it was very fun, I never feel like this before” 

Beyond the singing performance, we had the honor to see Epic Arts perform their “same same” shorted version, it was magical as well as impressive as the stunt they did on stage was shocking but entertaining. We also get to see the creativity of the team La Chhouk in their Civilai Fashion Show, we also get to see the culture of indigenous people in Cambodia through one of Phum Asia’s team performances. So many different aspects were happening on stage and it shows the diversity this festival stands for, and that was Berk Chet. At the end we had a group of amazing singers from the Blind Musician Association, together we danced Khmer traditional dances and that conclude Berk Chet in Phnom Penh.

I hope you enjoy following me on this journey of Berk Chet and I hope you open your heart and celebrate the diversity of Cambodia with us.

If you are interested in learning more about Berk Chet or the DEI landscape of Cambodia, don’t hesitate to reach out.

We can exchange kind words through email [email protected]