The Story Behind Of FounderTomoko Kasahara

Tomoko Kasahara


With a Master’s Degree in Art from Tokyo Educational University, she started her career in 1976, as an art teacher at a public high school in Tokyo. She had been an art teacher in Japan for about 31 years. It was her dream to put up ”Small Art School”. Upon looking for a location, she visited India, Nepal, and finally decided to build the school in Siem ReapCambodia in 2007

She started teaching art in Cambodia at an orphanage center and also taught the neighborhood children. In ”Small Art School”, she provides all art supplies and education for free. To follow her dream to provide free art education to underprivileged children, she and her team decided to create the ”Khmer Kids Art Gallery” to help raise funds for ”Small Art School”.

” Under the Cambodian big blue sky,

wishing for children to feel happy and alive

as they treasure their childhood days,

hoping that joy transcends

upon their shining eyes,

and wishing their hearts will be satisfied “.

Bringing the Beautiful to Lives of Cambodian Children

About 13 years ago, in 2003 Tomoko makes her first visit to Cambodia. At that time, she’s teaching art in Tokyo high schools and is on her way to celebrate 30 years in this profession.At that point, Tomoko already knew she wanted to make art accessible for children leaving in hard conditions, for those who are just starting their life and who need to learn to see the beauty in it. 

To be able to make her dream come true, Tomoko had been saving funds for the last 20 years as she wanted her cause to be completely self-financed. She was not sure where she will open her art school but was firm in her intentions. A Cambodian couple she once met in Tokyo shared with Tomoko that most of the artists and teachers were killed in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. It’s when Tomoko knew what will be her art school’s final destination.

Three years after her first visit to Cambodia in 2003, Tomoko retired from her career in Tokyo and came back to Siem Reap all alone with a great cause to be started – Small Art School that provides free art education to underprivileged Cambodian children. 


The school construction started in June 2007, however, the nearby neighbourhoods paused the process for almost a year, so Tomoko held her first art lesson in Siem Reap orphanage in November 2007 with 25 children attending.


 Tomoko found her way to provide all art supplies and teaching materials to her little students. A year after, in 2008, she finally has a chance to open the doors of her Small Art School (SAS) to the children who have a strong desire to learn but lack opportunities to do it. In the same year, Tomoko welcomed a first Small Art School staff member – Hea Cheav


Hea is an inspiring example of what you can achieve when you really want to learn. A middle brother, he grew up in Beng Melia area with his family and 9 siblings. When Hea turned 6 years old, his father brought him to a temple in Siem Reap as the family could no longer afford to raise all 9 children.  

The Small Art School and its staff help Cambodian children to experience the happiness of creative learning.  By providing free education, SAS actually gives the children an opportunity to step into the world full of shared happiness and joy of being a kid. The School also shows the children and their families a new way of personal development and gives a chance to start a career outside of typical work opportunities in Cambodia.


A couple of SAS graduates have achieved a lot and are an example for the younger students. Some of our graduates became art teachers and currently work in local NGOs, local and international schools in Cambodia. At SAS, we teach our students to develop their imagination and individual art style while, very often, art teachers and painters prefer to teach reproductive art copied from art books.


It’s been around 14 years now and the SAS is an established social enterprise proud of 450 children attending its classes with its exhibitions being held in Siem Reap and internationally on a regular basis.  Our students have won various contests and awards, including Awards Aerie International (USA), Toyota Dream Car Contest (Cambodia), Giz Art and Craft contest (Germany and Cambodia), and Paper cutting International Art Contest (Japan), White canvas etc.


With many things achieved and many young lives settled, the Small Art School has a lot to develop. Tomoko has been and is financing not only her own living costs but also all School-related projects, staff salaries, facility’s cost, logistics and many more important things that the students can’t go on without. Within the past 2 years, the School has been supported by Japanese grants and private sponsors. However, there’s so much more to be done for our students and the School is searching for more fundraising opportunities and programs. 


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