Chhum, the self-led advocate
My name is Pov Sovann also known as Chhum and I am married with 4 children. I live in a 4x5m old wooden house with a tin roof. I make money by sewing at home. My husband and I were never that close, whenever I sat down near him, or where people were eating together; he’d get up and leave. I used to be too afraid to sit close to him – if he sat in a hammock I would get up and walk away. Sometimes I felt like I was the only person not being involved in the world. I had no siblings near, no one to talk to. I was so alone. I used to feel like I didn’t know how to speak at all or how to speak with people. I was afraid of everyone. I have been a victim of both physical and psychological violence in my family due to heavy alcohol use, and gambling.
I love being part of in Lakhon Komnit organisation which is a women’s organisation supported by Voice. Its main goal is transformative leadership through art. I was so lonely and in a cloud of confusion at home. On project days, we all started sharing to encourage each other. The whole week I waited for the weekend, the project days. I performed as Neary in the show “Lucky Fish”. Her story was my story. People saw my husband working as a driver and thought everything was great for me. They didn’t know that at night he was coming home intoxicated, smashing doors, not letting anyone sleep and being violent. In the show, Neary had no rights whatsoever, she couldn’t speak; she wasn’t even allowed to choose how to make her hair. That was me. From the outside, things looked good – but the reality was very different. That was my situation – I looked happy from the outside, but inside I was breaking. I felt happy to share my story because I knew it wasn’t just my experience – other women were facing a similar situation. At the performances, people would come up to ask questions and share their views that could better our lives. I knew I wasn’t alone.
Working on the Voice project, I had to use my imagination – helping other people when they got stuck on how to perform scenes or find their character, coming up with new ideas in theatre improvisation games – you had to be quick and generate ideas fast, and when they failed, try again with a new idea – quickly! I had to use my brain to create and show characters, actions, scenes – changing to new ideas quickly, again, and again until it worked well. I loved assisting each one to improve our scenes and performance skills – sharing pieces of advice, putting in our full feelings – I loved trying out characters and giving people suggestions of how to improve on them. I started applying that at home – imagining how to change and develop so as to improve things and what to try out to see if it worked. I built up my confidence gradually.
My husband used to feel shy and ashamed. I started to notice how other husbands and wives spoke together, and that our relationship didn’t have to be that distant. I thought to myself if I’m brave enough to perform theatre in front of public audiences – why can’t I be brave enough to speak with my husband in our home?
So I started trying it out to see how it went when we chatted. Step by step, we started chatting, joking together.
The first time I went and sat next to him – he said “are you crazy?”
I said, “Wait a minute, I want to try an idea”
I started asking some questions… he slowly started answering
Day by day I built up the confidence.
My house used to be so silent.
Eventually, when my husband would come home from work, he would come back on the motorcycle and he’d come to sit with me and he would start talking to me.
I used to hit my kids. I would never discuss or explain anything to them, I simply told them off. I was so tired; I used to be so aggressive to them. Now, I notice and control my anger, and I can speak. I built up different ways of acting from being in the project. I tested out the idea by performing – simply trying out different ideas – I used those methods in my real life. I took the child’s feelings from a child character I performed – I tried out being playful and joking with my family, like the child’ character. I would never have behaved like that in my family before! I started trying it out – and it worked!
My husband has improved a lot – we still argue, but he’s not violent now. He still gambles but his other activities are so much better than before. Now when he’s drunk he just goes to sleep – he used to push me out of bed, wake me up, and push me around. I feel that I now understand people better.
This is a big change in me – I never wanted to speak, I was just a woman, a wife. I was scared of other people. I started applying all the possible actions to get the result I greatly considered and how to use my voice and behaviour to change my relationships with people, especially my husband. I thought to myself if I’m brave enough to perform theatre in front of public audiences – why can’t I be brave enough to speak with my husband? So I just started trying it out -. Step by step, we started chatting, joking together. I learned my rights and felt powerful to speak. He knows now – if he hits me, I’ll report him and he’ll go to prison. There are laws now, it’s not like before.