Opinion

Courage and talent

Five years may not seem that long of a time period, but for one talented Cambodian, that stretch has meant a world of change for him and his family.

Hy Chanthavouth, who goes by the easier to pronounce “Vouth” (rhymes with foot) in Canada, is an up and coming opera singer who was discovered in Cambodia by Arne Sahlen, a classical and ragtime pianist and composer from Kimberley. Sahlen since 1992 he has been going to Cambodia with the Cambodia Support Group (CSG) to help the people there.

For the past five years Vouth has been in Canada, first being educated in English and Canadian culture in Cranbrook and Kimberley and now continuing his education at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

“The reason I’m living in Canada now is to take the knowledge I get here back to Cambodia. I’m here to follow a dream to be able to study opera and become a professional opera singer to represent Cambodia,” said Vouth. “Opera is western music and is very new to a poor country like Cambodia.”

And this is exactly the type of person that Sahlen is pleased to help. He explained that Vouth volunteered his time and expertise with the CSG in Cambodia with absolutely no expectation of reward. It was during this time that Sahlen found out just how talented this young man is. However, talent and a willingness to help is no guarantee of success, especially in Vouth’s home country.

“Brilliant or no, someone like Hy Chanthavouth may have no chance if a CSG sponsorship plan had been announced. Directors and the rich would tout and push their kids; glowing reference letters might appear on payment of bribes or threat of harm; transcripts could be doctored the same way.  When our first sponsored student (pianist Piseth, 1997-98) went back, the University music school director was still angry that his son had not got Piseth’s Canada chance.  He made so much trouble that Piseth finally quit. Piseth did not tell me – one does not speak badly about teachers in Cambodia – but an upset British VSO volunteer did,” said Sahlen.

He went on to relate that Vouth used his small motorcycle and his local connections to help the CSG mission in whatever way he could. Tirelessly working to help the organization and his fellow Cambodians. Because of these traits, along with obvious talent, Sahlen felt Vouth would be a good candidate for further training in Canada.

Since coming to Canada, Vouth has been very busy. He is a goodwill ambassador with the CSG, helped organize and develop a trip to Cambodia by the University of Victoria Choir, has sang at nearly 100 fund raising concerts, taught music to Cambodian students and has even performed to raise funds for the Women’s Emergency Shelter in Cranbrook to name only a few of his accomplishments. However, he is quick to point out that he has had help to accomplish all he has done.

“Arne is not only a mentor but a supporter too. He is like a father to me—always supportive,” said Vouth. “And I’d like to thank everybody who has helped me learn and who have supported me in Canada.”

In Kimberley, Vouth had two homestay families. Jeannie MacDonald and Ian Ferrie and Brenda Tocszak and Ken Rintoul, along with their families introduced him to mountain culture. In Cranbook, Andrea and Michael Grossman took him in and supported him as he strove to better his English skills.

To conclude, the story of Vouth is about love. The love of music, the love of charity and the love of integrity. Coming from a country where Sahlen explained that corruption is taken as a way of doing business, it is not only that a young man was able to find a new way in the world, but that it can be done entirely with hard work, relationships and commitment.

For the people living in underprivileged countries around the world, there can be no better endorsement of Canada.

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