Khmer New Year, through the eyes – and photos – of a survivor

Chan Moni*, one of the survivors at Hope for Justice’s Dream Home in Cambodia, has been taking photography lessons and documented the recent Khmer New Year, which was full of fun and festivities. Below, she recounts in her own words how the event went!

Hey! My name is Chan Moni and I am learning how to take photos at Shine Career School. We recently celebrated Khmer New Year at Dream Home with many different festivities. Khmer New Year started on Thursday afternoon and went through Sunday. We dressed up and played traditional games all weekend long.

On Friday afternoon we all began by cleaning the house to get it prepared to start the New Year and for the celebrations we were having. We strung lights on the walls and ceiling and laid out beautiful rugs full of many colours on the floor of the living room. The outdoor area was blasting with music from speakers, playing Khmer music and karaoke. We all ate lunch together inside because it was raining in the afternoon.

Once the festivities began on Friday, we played games like bobbing for apples, traditional dancing, sack races, Leak Kanseng (similar to capture the flag, with a leaf), Dondeourm Sleok Chaer (similar to tag with flags), piñata games and dancing.

Other traditions that happened throughout the weekend are throwing baby powder on each other for fun, as well as having water balloon fights in the courtyard. The tradition of water balloon fights, water guns and baby powder is a more modern Khmer tradition but it happens all over the country. Families will leave the big cities to go home to the provinces, see their homes and parents and go on trips around the country together – it is very important for Khmer families to celebrate together. In Phnom Penh, the city gets very empty because everyone goes home and most of the stores close down.

We spent the weekend making traditional food with the house moms and just hanging out with each other. We would cook corn and kebabs on the grill in the courtyard and sit on the floor in circles to eat. We made so many different dishes over the weekend and we all helped to cook and clean to make Khmer New Year as fun as possible!

At Lighthouse, there were similar activities, from nail painting to water fights. Traditional food like eggrolls and soups were served as well. Some of the volunteers and interns at Hope for Justice went to Lighthouse and Shine to play games, paint nails, and learn about Khmer New Year celebrations from the staff and us!

*Survivor’s name changed for her protection