A student stands on the stage, holding a turtle in a basket. He calls his pet ‘Ninja Turtle’ as he imagines it to be a courageous fighter that stands up against bullies. In reality, the turtle spends most of its time hiding in its shell. The boy feels he has a lot in common with the turtle – he is too scared to defend a fellow classmate who is being bullied.
Later the boy meets an old man who had worked in a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime. The man shares his thoughts about civil courage and the importance of standing up against injustice, which makes the boy think.
The scenes are from a play called The Courageous Turtle, which is part of a theatre project aiming to enhance Cambodian students’ knowledge of the Khmer Rouge history. The group has been performing the play in different provinces, cities and villages. Thus far, more than 10.000 students have taken part in the events.
The project that will go on until the end of 2017 targeted high school students in the beginning but has in the past two months widened its reach to universities.
In addition to the play, The Courageous Turtle project involves intergenerational dialogues with civil parties of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), film screenings, drawing competitions and the production of short films.
Letting the older generation to share their thoughts and history with the younger generation is an important part of the project. This has also been done by a series of photographs of Khmer Rouge survivors holding messages in their hands. The photos are going to be exhibited at the Angkor Photo Festival in Siem Reap in December 2016.
Starting in the same month, paintings by a Cambodian artist Chhim Sothy will be displayed at Cambodian schoolyards. Moreover, the Courageous Turtle has also got its own theme song, which was produced by a Cambodian author Sokyou Chea and a German music producer Jan Müller. A Cambodian rapper MC Lisha and the singer Nem Tum perform the song.
Furthermore, the project has been proposed to the ECCC as a Judicial Reparation project. The Courageous Turtle has been included into the Guarantee of Non-repetition proposed list.
So, the student gets thinking about civil courage and helping others even when it is risky. In the end he realises that like a turtle he needs to stick out his head in order to move forward.