Members of Watt Samaki, a Cambodian Buddhist temple in Buxton, Maine, announced a fundraising campaign on 10 August. The community plans to build a new monastic residence, a cultural and community center, a traditional temple, and a music and events hall on 12 hectares of recently acquired land in Westbrook, which lies between Buxton and Maine’s largest city, Portland.
The proposed project is to take place over two phases and the campaign is aimed at raising US$1.5 million. According to the plan, US$1 million will be spent on the community center and monastic residence, to be built over the next 1–3 years. Construction of the traditional temple will begin over the next 3–5 years at an estimated cost of US$500,000. Members of the Cambodian community who are builders and contractors are donating their labor for the project to help keep costs down.
The community said that it became clear during the pandemic that a new, larger space would be needed for the growing Cambodian community practicing in Buxton. There are currently about 2,000 Cambodians living in Maine, many of whom have lived in the state for more than 40 years, having arrived during the persecution and destruction that occurred under the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from 1974–79.
Marpheen Chann, founder and president of Khmer Maine, an organization that focuses on supporting local Cambodians, and a partner for the upcoming Watt Samaki project, said: “Our community has called Maine home for half a century now, and just like the Italian, Irish, and French communities who came here before us, it’s time to come forth and say we are Maine, too.” (WGME)
Chann added: “During COVID, Khmer Maine wanted to work with the temple because they serve a lot of our seniors and elders, and that’s a population that we hoped to serve during that time.” (The Forecaster)
Additionally, the current temple space is too small for major festivals, such as Pchum Ben, and the Kachin and Cambodian New Year celebrations, which could bring in up to 300 people, according to Chann.
“In a rural area that size, it just showed us that the community had grown to an extent where this was not going to work going into the future,” Chann said. “In conversations with the temple over the years, we suggested maybe it’s time to find a new location and a new town to work with.” (The Forecaster)
According to Chann, Westbrook was chosen because it “already has a good number of Cambodian families and households,” and because the city was welcoming to the project and the Cambodian community, going so far as to suggest sites that would work best for the Buddhist buildings. (The Forecaster)
“It was really important for me, facilitating the connection between the temple and the city, for the city to offer an olive branch in that manner. That was really something important for the temple to hear because a city was willing to offer help in a sense. That gave the temple an indication that the city of Westbrook is a place they could work with,” Chann explained. “We’re here to bring culture, arts, diversity, and food, which brings vibrancy and tourism to an area. The city being open to a temple there was huge.” (The Forecaster)
The new community center will provide space for traditional dance, music, and arts to be taught and performed. It will also be open to the broader community. Trails that exist on the current site will be maintained and will remain accessible to the public.
“The temple is honoring the past, and the culture and community center is dealing with what do we do in the present and go forward as a community,” said Chann. “Khmer Maine will be able to facilitate access for other BIPOC communities to be able to enter land and walk forest trails that they know is owned by a community of color, rather than owned by the state. Being in nature helps heal and offers space for meditation and prayer.” (The Forecaster)
Related news reports from BDG
Buddhist Temple Revives Sacred Cambodian Dance in Minnesota Farmland
Update: Planned Buddhist Temple in San Jose, California, Wins Approval
Cambodian Buddhist Monks in Maine Offered Free Dental Care
Rights Groups Criticize Treatment of Cambodian Buddhist Monk Arrested in Thailand
US-Based Buddhist Foundation Launches with US$500,000 Donation for Cambodians Impacted by COVID-19