Although they make up only a small percentage of Cambodia’s population, the Cham have been an important part of Cambodian history for more than 1,000 years. Despite this rich legacy, Cham cultural heritage is in serious danger of vanishing. Did you know that during the Khmer Rouge regime the majority of books and documents written in the Cham language were destroyed? Because of this destruction, the Cham community has very little to pass on to future generations, and there is a danger that what remains could be lost forever.
Concerned by this potential loss, the U.S. Embassy has partnered with the Cham community for more than a decade to help preserve its cultural heritage. One important project led to the development of a pilot program that teachers are using to teach Cham-language reading and writing skills to young students. Another successful program is focused on gathering and preserving surviving Cham historical documents and making them widely accessible to everyone in the community.
Last month, the Cham community invited our Embassy to celebrate the Second Annual Cham Language Symposium, which brought together hundreds of participants from Phnom Penh, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Battambang, and Pursat provinces. The symposium included a presentation on the state of Cham literacy and the type of instruction being used today. The event also identified different school sites, teachers, and books that could be used as resources in teaching the Cham language. While many of those in attendance were part of the U.S.-supported study program, other participants came from provinces where Cham language literacy is limited or becoming extinct.
There is no question that language is an essential and cherished part of a community’s culture and is something vital to preserve. I am very proud that the U.S. Embassy is playing a role in helping Cham Muslims experience the joy of reading and writing in their own native tongue.