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WOMP! Wat Opot Music Program (party!)

by James Speck

The Children of Wat Opot at 'One Day On Earth' - 11/11/2011
Wayne Dale Matthysse and Sann Vandin, co-founders of Partners in Compassion Cambodia, founded the Wat Opot Children’s Community in Takeo Province. Over decade ago, for many children faced by both health and social issues, this place was 'last stop' on planet Earth. The crematorium in the back part of the property stands as a grim reminder of those early days. The recent book, “In a Rocket Made of Ice” by author Gail Gutradt published by Random House explores this history much more in depth.


But that was then and this is now. Due to rapid advances and distribution of anti-retroviral drugs and the dedication of loyal international volunteers, and the full time life dedication of people like Ms. Melinda Lies, Wat Opot can now be described as strong, vibrant and a place that simply thrives.

My encounter with Wat Opot began, as often happens in life, as a 'serendipitous meeting'. American, Amy Nathan was on a repeat visit to Wat Opot to donate a generous grant to specifically fund a music program. My reluctant first visit to assist in some musical instrument repair and teaching turned into repeat visits. For me it was like author Gail Gutradt’s description as a “Workshop for Souls”. This encounter has now developed into an on going music program and, happy to say, the second year of a full concert called WOMP! (Wat Opot Music Program) featuring some of the best International and local Cambodian musicians. Could WOMP! possibly follow the model of SXSW (South by South West) concept (or maybe Burning Man?!?) or the already fully established Cambodian Phare Ponleu Selpak? Why not!

Miss Sarawan and Andre Swart at WOMP 2013
Besides the concert, one of the highlights is being entrusted to find and hire musicians/artists that I believe contribute to the program. Some examples are Australian poet/songwriter Scotty Bywater’s insightful visit, Julian Polson, founder of the international group Cambodia Space Project and incredible Cambodian singer Srey Thy (the kids want you back!), fun drum workshop by Luis Arambarri from Brazil and sharing the stage with the wonderful American/Khmer singer and recording artist Laura Mam and watching her freely mix with the audience to the delight of the kids. And this year, on a repeat visit, popular Khmer rock group The Underdogs! All of them brought something special to the program, however, it is a fantastic feeling to employ these professional musicians who work so hard and deserve it.

Finally, if I had to choose just one encounter that truly sums up the many experiences I’ve had, it would have to be the performance by Joe Wrigley (UK) and Mealea (Cambodia). One evening in the theater (yes they have a stage!) about an hour into their show, kids being kids, started to fidget and to chat amongst themselves. Suddenly, Joe and Mealea launched into the ever-popular Khmer song, “Sva Rom Monkiss” (Monkey Dance Monkey) and unbeknownst to most of us, the founder Wayne Matthysse had installed a strobe light in the ceiling and turned it on. Almost as if on cue and choreographed, some 40 plus kids, international volunteers (and myself!) started wildly jumping up and down to this energetic song and pulsating strobe light for 5 minutes. Afterwards, breathlessly I said to Wayne, “That’s the most fun I’ve ever had!” to which he calmly replied, “Oh…. we know how to party at Wat Opot”.

Enough said…. see you at the concert.


  1. Too bad I'll miss this exciting concert! Am not arriving back at WO until 1/23. I'll be eager to hear the kids' tales when I see them!

  2. They were so accommodating and I was truly impressed. It is such a comfortable environment for events NYC. For a buffet, it was delicious food. Alcoholic beverages were also great.


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