MAPCambodia: Our Metal Fairytale

Our Stories

MAPCambodia: Our Metal Fairytale

By Bobak Bakhtiari & Kid Cooper Levy

Since the inception of MAP in Cambodia in 2010, a range of evolutions and program successes have colored it’s history. We’ve advanced our existing MAP school there, from an early successful collaboration with UNICEF to our more recent leaping ascension into global press via our heavy metal boy-band, Doch Chkae, comprised of alumni of our Music Wellness program. Here, we review our impact and sustainable philosophy of self empowerment in the slums of Cambodia.

In 2010 when members of MAP’s Board visited Cambodia, they felt that the best way to impact the lives of so many impoverished children living in slums was to open an orphanage in a home setting. MAP in Cambodia began as an orphanage. The members of Doch Chkae are a few of our first children in this home. After seeing that the children felt out of place in Phnom Phen due to the disparity in the schools, the orphanage moved to the countryside.

A few of our troubled kids struggled with extreme anger and behavioral issues. This sparked several discussions between Timon Seibel (MAP Cambodia Program Director) and Ladan Judge (MAP’s co-founder and COO). Soon a Music Wellness Program was formed that allowed for the children to express themselves through music and arts, and to learn how to positively channel their emotions through their music. MAP’s mission, to empower every child to reach their fullest potential, meant, in this case, giving the band instruments and tools toward success. “Timon tried everything to ease the boys’ anger – football, art classes – but nothing worked. Running out of ideas, Timon, a fan of metal music, took them to see Cambodian hardcore pioneers Sliten6ix perform at a bar in Phnom Penh. Finally, something clicked.” – Excerpt from a recent BBC article. Watch this short clip aired on German TV that recaps the evolution of Doch Chkae.

After informal practices and writing sessions, MAP facilitated local concerts for the band Doch Chkae and Singer Vartey Ganiva , who also happens to be a teacher of MAP’s Music Wellness Program, and  MAP Cambodia’s Accountant.

Seeing continued musical success, MAP further enhanced its musical program by forming a record label, Yab Moung Records with Mrs. Ganiva. The label has successfully produced and performed various concerts in Cambodia. Yab Moung represents Doch Chkae, comprised of Ouch Theara, Ouch Hing, and Vichey Sok .

In 2016, encouraged by our collaborators at UNICEF, MAP successfully transitioned the children at the orphanage into foster families supported by MAP.  HOPE Children’s Home evolved into MAP School with a Vocational Training Program. MAP’s Music Wellness Program offered at MAP School provided a way for many children suffering from traumatic pasts to  benefit from the power of self expression, music and art. It also provided jobs for our teens to help train youth in the art of music. This community empowerment paradigm continues to inform our development.

In 2018, Doch Chkae was invited to perform at Wacken Open Air, the world’s biggest heavy metal festival, but denied a visa by German authorities due to their financial situation. The following year, a petition, signed and circulated by fans, secured visas for the band. Just this past summer at Wacken festival, our boys bedazzled the crowd and continue to bloom global momentum.

They recently signed a contract for distribution and MAP remains a core funder of Yab Moung Record’s development.

Vichey Sok (guitarist & song writer of Doch Chkae) says  “MAP is like my mother… giving us what we want and what we need to release our anger inside of the heart… thank you so much Mom Against Poverty, for everything. I love you.”

MAP Cambodia has gone from a traditional orphanage to a foster care model, to an adaptive, personalized model of education and care at MAP school. Without such opportunities, young people from underprivileged families in Cambodia typically find themselves doing child labor and squandering away the precious years when their minds are most capable of absorbing new information. And all for jobs they may not have tomorrow, next week, or next year.

Vocational training has been a focus of ours for some time, from computer science, literacy, weaving to Music and Arts . At MAP, we try to see people as individuals. This means that every person has a unique situation, often requiring unique solutions to help them to discover their hidden potential. Some find this adaptivity daunting, but we find it enriches our experience as well as the lives of those we come in contact with.

Doch Chkae have a unique skill set. Their approach is to make Metal Against Poverty.

It’s difficult to teach anyone anything when they feel that they themselves aren’t being heard. This has always been a stumbling block in sociology and anthropology. People barging into towns and villages with a miracle panacea. We don’t do that here.

Instead, what we’ve tried to do is help these kids, now adults, find what actually interests them. Music is a skill in its own right, but a band is something much, much, greater. Through this, they can learn writing, collaborative skills, group dynamics, scheduling, accountability, the list goes on. And other trades come with it as well, from computer skills to silkscreening, to grammar and finances. Thomas Pynchon once said that “rock and roll remains one of the last honorable callings, and a working band is a miracle of everyday life.” This is the sort of miracle we’ve witnessed here.

Band Bio

DOCH CHKAE is a death metal band hailing from the renowned Flying Shit Town Slum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The band was birthed in a music incubator program created and sustained by Moms Against Poverty (MAP), a US-based NGO. The members met in MAP's orphanage where they were also raised. DOCH CHKAE, which translates to “like a dog”, is a widely used pejorative term in Khmer. It portrays how the band members felt society perceived them - orphans and waste pickers from a dump site slum. In 2011 Vichey Sok and half brothers Theara and Hing Ouch were taken into MAP’s care. Between gigs, the band works to break the cycle of poverty by empowering the next generation of orphans and underpriveleged youth with musical tools of self expression under the counsel of Moms Against Poverty.

Long accustomed to finding pearls in the trash, their music brings new life to death metal. Classic metal transitions and super chug rhythms meld into a unique Khmer language style. The result? Highvolt stompers with relevant, honest lyrics: “One day we will fight each other like dogs!”



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