The Giant Puppet Project takes over Siem Reap in January when an explosion of colour, art and theatre lands in Temple Town.

The Giant Puppet Project, Cambodia’s largest local community arts project for children, provides a creative platform for disadvantaged children to develop self-expression and confidence through art. Every year the Giant Puppet Project offers more than 600 children the opportunity, to engage with the issues that most affect theme for example, poverty, health and education, through a fun artistic medium.

Under the guidance of 12 student artists from the renowned Phare Ponleu Seplak Visual Arts School in Battambang, local children and young adults will participate in specialised workshops.

Now entering its tenth year, this event for underprivileged children in Siem Reap establishes a sense of community, teaches teamwork, and provides a fun means for children to learn about endangered flora and fauna indigenous to their country.

Project director, Stuart Cochlin, helped to merge the Giant Puppet Project with Phare in 2009, and is delighted with the evolution of his initial idea. Cochlin, an architect originally from London, co-founded the project in 2007, and is proud to have witnessed the project grow and gain recognition and respect over the years.

The 2016 Giant Puppet Project will begin on Jan. 23, with an established team of artists and volunteers holding the first workshop at Wat Damnak Pagoda. Young landmine survivors from the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund will work alongside local expat children from nearby international schools.

“The first giant puppet will be created over two days and in the following week children from a broad range of schools, educational facilities and ‘street kid’ shelters are invited to join the workshops where the children themselves craft the puppets under the tutelage of the artists”, explains Cochlin. “All puppets are created to include unique educational, cultural or ecological themes such as road safety, endangered species, hygiene, local cultural appreciation and environmental awareness. Each puppet takes an average of two days to complete and will vary in size from ten to fifteen meters”,

The grand finale of the Giant Puppet Project, is a dramatic parade through the streets of Siem Reap Town. Each organisation will exhibit their creation in the traditional style of Chinese dragon puppets. The parade draws a growing crowd each year, with spectators from local communities as well as many international tourists.

“The Giant Puppet Parade in Siem Reap is the biggest event in ABCs and Rice’s calendar year”, says Tammy Durand, Director of ABCs and Rice. “It builds their self-worth because the puppet is actually made by them. It’s wonderful to see the children in a setting outside of school where they work as a team. They have so much fun during the parade, marching with everyone and showing off their puppet. One particular child said he enjoys the puppet build because of the surprise of which animal we are making and that we learn to care for all the animals.”

The parade begins in the Old Market area of Siem Reap and marches through the old town before snaking its way along the river road to the Royal Independence Gardens, opposite Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. Once the parade reaches its destination, entertainment is put on for the children’s amusement to reward their efforts.

Tania Palmer, founder of The Green Gecko Project, a centre established to shelter street children at risk, described her organisation’s experience with the Giant Puppet Project as “a fabulous experience from beginning to end; watching their masterpieces evolve from their handy work to the pride and joy beaming from their faces as they chanted [through the streets of Siem Reap] shaking their shakers and holding up their gigantic achievement to hoards of bemused yet delighted onlookers curb side.”

The Giant Puppet Project initiative is growing in size and gaining both local and international awareness and interest.

For more information, @giantpuppetproj