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The International Writers Magazine Cambodia:

Writing and Performing A Rainwater Ceremony Song
David Calleja

Today is a very important day in the history of Tropangs Dok village, for the concept of rain and its decision to grace its presence over the village will be honoured with a song. Ceremonies are a very important part of life in Cambodian villages. When a facility is fully installed that will be beneficial to the entire community, it is guaranteed that every single person living in the village, whether young or old, will turn up to celebrate its official use. There is guaranteed to be lots of delicious food, plenty of loud music, but most importantly, the invitation of monks to bless the land and bring good fortune to the people who will benefit most.

In Tropang Sdok village, home to the Cambodian Non Government Organisation (NGO) Sorya, the construction of 117 rainwater tanks to individual premises to store clean drinking water coincided with an educational campaign to improve the health practices of residents and encourage more responsible use of a precious natural resource that seemed to be in short supply during the wet season.  
Around 99% of Tropang Sdok's farmers plant, grow and harvest rice. It is undoubtedly the staple food of Cambodia. Without good rain and a decent harvest, the villagers cannot be assured of enough food for the coming year.  So the monks who bless the grounds where it is hoped that rain will fall affects everybody.
As an English teacher, I played a part in the ceremony that would commemorate the official launch of the rainwater ceremony. My task was to create a song that would be taught to students whch would be performed at the public ceremony, one that reflected the importance of water for the land and delivered a message of hope and thanks on behalf of the people of Tropang Sdok.  My contribution was to deliver a song based on the tune of the traditional French tune, Frere Jacques. And I only had 7 days in which to do it. Thankfully, I had been informed that I would only have to teach the English version, not the Khmer translation.
My addition to the ceremony was delivered in the form of The Rainwater Song:
Rainwater, rainwater
We love you
We love you
You’re our source of living
You’re our source of living
Drip, drip, drip
Drop, drop, drop
Rainwater, rainwater
Here’s our home
Here’s our home
Fall in containers
Fall in containers
Drop, drop, drop
In Tropang Sdok
Dear container, dear container
We promise to
We promise to
Care for you always
Clean water stays in
Tropang Sdok
Tropang Sdok
Over three lessons, I drilled this mercilessly into the minds and hearts of 50 primary school students aged between 6 and 12 years old. Prior to teaching each verse, however, I came up with a very simple animated cartoon to introduce the concept of the song, which ended up looking like a public service announcement.
Using stick figures, the narration, drawings and impromptu street theatre introduced the life of a fictitious family in the village of Tropang Sdock who dreamt of having clean water and prayed to Buddha every morning at sunrise and sunset. The family was poor and had little to offer, for their rice crops had not grown due to little rain being provided, and the parents wanted their children to drink clean water and eat plentiful amounts of rice and vegetables to have energy to attend school and not go without food. In the same breath, my strange began in a fanciful yet descriptive manner of the issues facing farmers in rural Takeo Province. 
The story continued to describe how the sun wanted to take all of the limelight, and refuse to allow the grass to grow for village cows to eat and get healthy. At this stage, I introduced the concept of rain and clouds by developing two new characters, a brother and sister named Cloud-E-O and Cloud-E-AH, or Claudio and Claudia, who teamed up and told the sun to have a short vacation to let some rain fall on the village, or risk being blocked out permanently. Of course with the sun standing its ground, Calduio and Claudia worked long and hard all night while the sun was asleep, and they built a wall so thick, the sun could not pass through.
At this stage I told everyone to look out the windows at the grey skies where rain was threatening. Together, the clouds and air formed rain and they started to provide clean water and crops for the family. The rain filled the containers, which I drew like the grey containers outside. As I kept telling the story of how people had clean water to drink and wash with, and that rice crops were growing, the people showed their kindness by writing a song of thanks as payment for the rain and rainwater container, promising to take good care of everything. 
For the ceremony, the song would be communicated in three languages; English, Khmer and German. Under my guidance, primary school students would learn the English words and with the assistance of a Cambodian born English teacher, also contribute the song in Khmer language and form the two versions into a medley for the benefit of the local villagers. The German version would be conducted separately by students learning the German language, most of hwom were Cambodian employees working for the NGO and would be taught by a volunteer native German speaker. Although the song is good natured, its more serious message to the community's residents comprising of 100 families is tobe more health conscious, diarrhea and simple health problems are common because people use dirty pond water to drink, wash and even urinate in. Since it is closer for residents to walk to the pond for dirty water than to go to small shops on their moto, or even the next major village 10 minutes (or order it from Phnom Penh) away to get large containers of drinking water, convenience always wins out.  
It is hard to get people to change their mind on using things safely. We know and have been pleading with everyone to fill their tanks with clean rainwater only, but those who have lived a long time will continue to use dirty water for themselves, and to them, what has worked for them over many years will continue to work.”  It is consistent to live for your next meal or two seems to be the mantra, because if a population can survive just about every hardship, from man-made to natural disasters, nothing will change minds now.
Although I taught the song to 50 students, it is unfortunate that only 6 were selected for the ceremony because every student is excited about something as big as a public event, especially in the presence of monks and community elders. For the unlucky students that did miss out on the eventual adulation that would be afforded to the successful choir, they would pick up new ideas about English words and their practical meanings, and also gained the opportunity to extend their artistic talents. For the ceremony, they were allowed to draw a picture based on what rain means to them personally, and unsurprisingly, the focus was predominately on healthy farms and happy families, precisely the message that was being carried across for the entire day.
On the day of the ceremony, the students practised the songs and matching actions relentlessly in the lead-up to their allocated slot. On a day where an entire morning was devoted to Buddhist ceremonies commencing from sunrise at 5:00am, residents and distinguished guests listening to speeches delivered in three languages (Khmer, German and English) about the priviliege of water container ownership, the importance of good communal behaviour and proper care and maintenance, the real test is to see just how effective outreach attempts are by NGOs, whether locally based or sponsred by Western countries, in allaying the fears and curiosities that nothing will change for the worse by adopting more efficient water usage techniques. Communities base their lives on being good Buddhists, farming rice crops and living in peace and harmony with their neighbours and a new concept will take time to adapt to for anybody who is comfortable with traditional methods affecting their own life. All I seemed to be concerned about was nobody getting stage fright and forgetting words in the song, so my intentions were probably a little more selfish.      
However, in considering the bigger picture, the legacy of this rainwater song would prove to last much longer than for the sole purpose of being performed by just a handful of students on a given day. The purpose of the song demonstrated the children's capacity to undertake something relevant based upon their own experience of  living in a rural setting, and gave me a lesson in how to make children's English more exciting and inclusive. It means much more to them than just having one day to hear a tune that has a specific theme.
For these young students that will go on to continue their English learning education, it is a symbol of change.
David is a contributor to Hackwriters and Foreign Policy Journal. His works have also been included in SOHAM (Society of Harmony and Magnanimity) and Tales of Asia. View his submissions by visiting the homepages,, and
Also, see his video A Garbage Diet, about life for residents in the compounds of Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. and
If you have already viewed the film, please pass this link onto colleagues or anybody else that you know who may be interested.

© David Calleja January 2009
davidcalleja1973 at

In Kon Tum's Ethnic Villages & Orphanages
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The ethnic minority people, the Bahnar, Jolong, Rongao and Sirang, are kind and hard working. All we wish for is to be as equal in wealth

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