With bright colors, cultural dances and young faces, Pittsburgh will get a taste of Cambodia -- a glimpse highlighting the emerging hope of a country with a dark past.
The 18 orphaned and abandoned children performing in the six-week "Celebration of Hope" tour across the United States are part of the first generation born at the end of years of civil war and genocide in the Southeast Asian nation.
The troupe of seven boys and 11 girls, organized by Oakmont-based South East Asia Prayer Center, are touring in an effort to raise awareness about their country and express gratitude for support from around the world. Pittsburgh is the next stop, where the group will spend 10 days performing at seven venues; the first performance is at 1 p.m. today at the Frick Art and Historical Center in Point Breeze, followed by Kennywood Park and several churches in the area.
'Celebration of Hope'
1 p.m. at the Frick Art and Historical Center, Point Breeze, for children's camp.
Friday - 11 a.m. Kennywood Amusement Park, West Mifflin.
Sunday - Morning services at Riverside Community Church, Oakmont.
Aug. 22 - 7 p.m. at North Way Christian Community Church, Pine.
Aug. 23 - 7 p.m. at St. Peter's Reformed Church, Zelienople.
Aug. 24 - 7 p.m. at Penn Hills Alliance Church, Penn Hills.
Aug. 25 - Morning services at Monroeville Assembly of God, Monroeville.
The children, ages 9 to 17, come from five orphanages in Cambodia. Some have spent years in the homes, and some have just recently moved in. One is the 11-year-old adopted daughter of Pastor Sinai Phouek, the founder of Phnom Penh-based New Hope for Orphans of Cambodia, which partners with the Oakmont organization.
Cambodia is one of 25 nations that New Hope reaches out to, and for more than 10 years, it has been working to find homes for the thousands of children whose parents died of disease or could not find work. Some were sent to the orphanage for safety from a violent family member.
Tina Tomes, coordinator of the Prayer Center's Raising Kids Sponsorship Program, estimated that 50,000 to 60,000 orphans live in Cambodia. She said the 330 children housed by 12 orphanages built by the Oakmont group are just a "drop in the bucket."
Ms. Tomes calls the genocide during the rule of Pol Pot in the 1970s -- when more than 20 percent of the population was killed -- something that's been "lost in the shuffle of history."
"[Cambodia] needs help from the world," Ms. Tomes said. "Here's a country that's been destroyed from within that a lot of people are not aware of."
In the past eight years, the country -- which borders Vietnam, Thailand and Laos and is about the size of Ohio -- has improved its education and infrastructure development, according to Ms. Tomes.
Still, much of the population lives on dirt roads in thatch huts and remains without electricity and running water.
The children in "Celebration of Hope" are using their summer break from school to perform and have been practicing since the spring.
Although billed as a choir, the children will not be singing, but performing a mix of traditional Cambodian dances and modern Christian dance songs.
The repertoire includes the "coconut dance," in which the children emulate courtship, and another in which bamboo is used to mirror the sounds of crabs clicking their claws. Each dance is 5 to 10 minutes long.
Although the agency is not asking for donations, awareness is a part of the performance, so some children will be sharing their testimonies of life before and after participating with New Hope for Orphans.
The children have performed in Virginia and Florida and toured Washington, D.C., this summer. After Pittsburgh, they will travel to California for two weeks. This is the first time the tour has been organized since 2007.
"Where there's life, there's hope," said Matthew Geppert, president of South East Asia Prayer Center. "If we can turn a negative into a positive through a message of hope, then that hope will be so contagious that they will latch on to it and build the future of Cambodia."
For more information, visit www.seapc.us.
Marina Weis: email@example.com or 412-263-1889.