Festival Raises Awareness of Diversity

The Berk Chet Festival will see a lively celebration of Cambodia’s diversity and inclusivity rolled out in Battambang and Phnom Penh
Day 1 of the Berk Chet Festival. Kiripost/supplied
Day 1 of the Berk Chet Festival. Kiripost/supplied

Diversity and inclusivity will be at the heart of Berk Chet Festival 2023’s celebrations in Battambang and Phnom Penh, with lively sessions of art, live performances, and workshops that aim to raise awareness on the agenda.

Thay Pichmony, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Program Manager at Impact Hub Phnom Penh and festival manager, said, “The Berk Chet Festival (meaning open heart) is taking a hope-based storytelling approach to tell stories, and promote and raise awareness of the work being done to create more inclusivity within Cambodia.”

He said there will be a particular focus on the program’s five rightsholder groups: the LGBTIQ+ community, women, youth, elderly, Indigenous and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

As well as an agenda jam-packed full of entertainment, the event also aims to celebrate the work of the seven NOW-Us! Award winners. The awards recognize innovative initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion.

The winners are NEARY, SAORI, SafeSpaceBTB, Phum Asa, Sign Language Cambodia for All, Art & Mental health, and La Chhouk.

Pichmony said, “When someone has an open heart, they are willing to engage with others on a deep level, to listen attentively, and to understand and validate their emotions and experiences. It involves setting aside judgment and preconceived notions, allowing oneself to be present and fully receptive to the thoughts and feelings of others.”

He added that Berk Chet is the closing festival for the two-year program, NOW-Us! Voice in Cambodia, headed by Impact Hub Phnom Penh in collaboration with Voice through Oxfam in Cambodia.

The program launched in May 2021 with a call for applications from initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion. A total of 10 teams were selected to join a bootcamp and pitch their social innovation project.

In 2021, three winners were selected, with another four chosen in 2022.

“We are working our hardest to promote this festival to everyone, so that people in our society can learn more about our rightsholder groups, as well as the work that has been done in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion,” Pichmony said.

The significance of Berk Chet Festival

Pichmony told Kiripost, “The festival takes a hope-based storytelling through interactive workshops, informative booths and fun but meaningful concerts. The festival has the component of inclusivity.” He added there will also be interactive sessions hosted by NOW-Us! Award winners, such as a sign language workshop and using art to tap into emotions.

Furthermore, informative booths from civil society organizations, such as HelpAge Cambodia and Phum Asia, will be on show alongside others that showcase indigenous people’s traditions, LGBT movements and more.

“The Berk Chet Festival aims to promote the arts and culture of our five rightsholder groups, including performances that showcase the cultures of indigenous people, LGBT people and others,” Pichmony said.

Berk Chet Festival’s Hopes for Positive Change

“We hope that after people join the festival, they will understand more about the rightsholder groups and that people will be more interested in these movements,” Pichmony stated. “We hope that caring for the future of our society will be more diverse, equitable and inclusive to all.”

He added that if it is a success, the festival will be replicated and grow in size, with more minifestivals in the provinces to further spread awareness.

Pichmony stated, “I hope everyone joins us at the festival, no matter whether you are LGBT or not, a person with disabilities or not. I hope you join us to celebrate, as well as learn, so that together we can achieve a more inclusive world.”

The festival takes place in Battambang on August 27 from 2pm to 8pm at Phare Ponleu Selpak and at Factory Phnom Penh on September 3 from 2pm to 8pm.

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