Phare Ponleu Selpak
We are delighted to introduce you to our newly Adopted Charity, Phare Ponleu Selpak – meaning ‘The Brightness of the Arts ’ in Khmer. Phare Ponleu Selpak is an Award winning Cambodian non-profit organisation located in Battambang. It has been empowering children, youth and communities through artistic, educational, social support and outreach programs since 1994.
Their vision is to Change Lives through the Arts. Each year, Phare Ponleu Selpak supports and empowers over 1,000 students through their schools and programmes.
Their Artistic training programmes form the backbone of their work and include a Visual and Applied Arts School (VAAS) as well as a Performing Arts School (PAS).
The Visual and Applied Arts School (VAAS) provides professional training in graphic design, animation and visual arts, facilitating access to employment opportunities in Cambodia’s growing artistic arena and participating in the development of Battambang as a renowned creative city.
The Performing Arts School (PAS) offers leisure classes and vocational training in circus, music, dance and theatre. The talent and energy of their performing arts students are showcased several times a week in their Big Top tent with circus performances, traditional dance and live music shows.
In fact, it was in the Phare Ponleu Selpak Big Top Tent, that history was made at 08.10 am on Monday 8th March, when 90 Phare circus performers took a final bow after a continuous circus performance that lasted 24h, 10min and 30sec in a stunningly ambitious Guinness World Record attempt in the category of Longest Circus Show.
The 24-hour performance involved acts from 31 different shows from Phare’s 23 years circus history including acrobatics, magic, dance, theatre, clowning, music, contortion, singing, puppetry, breakdancing, live painting, unicycling and fire acts.
Guinness World Records are in the process of assessing the attempt and if confirmed, this will be one of just ten Guinness World Records that Cambodia holds.
And if that wasn't enough, Phare Ponleu Selpak was then awarded three international Awards following its World Record attempt : A Gold Stevie in ‘Innovation In Events’ category, a Silver Stevie in ‘Innovation in Communications’ category, competing against 29 countries in the Asia Pacific Region Stevie Awards 2021, and a Gold Award for Special Event in the Hermes Creative Awards.
Phare Ponleu Selpak won its awards alongside global giants like Astra Zeneca, Bruce Springsteen, LG, IBM, Pepsi, UNICEF, Hewlett Packard, Manulife, and Reuters.
In addition to its Arts Schools, Phare Ponleu Selpak provides:
A Student Development Program to give students emotional support, as well as professional and life skills training.
A Kindergarten for 250 children aged from 3 to 5, from under privileged families.
A Public School offering both a primary and secondary education to 500 students.
A Child Development Centre which offers diverse activities, leisure programmes and workshops to 100 children.
Osman Khawaja, Executive Director of Phare Ponleu Selpak, tells us more.
After the Khmer Rouge genocide, a lot of Cambodians ended up in refugee camps. In 1986, at the Thai-Cambodian border camp called “Site II”, the French humanitarian Véronique Decrop started giving drawing classes to the refugee children to help them overcome the traumas of war. She soon created a first association called “PHARE”.
When the camp closed in 1992, Véronique and nine of her Cambodian students from the camp decided to come here, in Battambang, to create an arts school for the most vulnerable children from the surrounding communities. Four of the original founders are still active in Phare Ponleu Selpak today. They are both artists and handle a management and/or teaching role in our Visual and Applied Arts School, Performing Arts School and Community outreach events.
How did the project start and evolve through the years?
What is the relationship between the Child Protection program and the Arts programs?
Besides education and the arts, the Social Support and Child Protection program stand as part of the foundation stones of Phare Ponleu Selpak. We change lives through the arts by ensuring that every child can access an arts and formal education despite their socio-economic background. The aim is to provide the students with emotional support, advice, security and consistency. On our campus, the Child Protection Program further upholds and protects children’s rights by providing free lunch, school kits, bicycles and monthly financial support for the most vulnerable. We are dedicated to improving their standard of living, but also their families’ and the local communities’. Individual counseling, collective awareness-raising sessions as well as first aid and basic health services are also provided.
Who participates in the Social Support programs and how are they implemented in the communities?
Our team of social workers monitor, visit, and support students and their families through a family needs assessment process. They collaborate with the other schools of Battambang Province to keep track of the students’ attendance and safety, for every child including from marginalized communities to not only have the opportunity to study, but also to stay in school. They work tirelessly to ensure that children and their families are safe from domestic violence and child abuse among other issues, building nurturing relationships with them. We also collaborate with an extensive network of 32 NGOs based in Battambang, as well as generous international donors helping us to give vulnerable children the tools they need in order to focus on their studies via our Child Protection & monthly sponsorship program.
What do the alumni do after they age-out of the arts studies and support services?
The new generation of Cambodians have more choices when it comes to developing a professional career. It is important to adapt the curriculum of our schools and secure job opportunities for our alumni. We want to provide our students with communication and life skills, but also a complete set of technical skills, a strong fundamental and cultural knowledge of the arts, and the ability to understand, analyse, and respond to a given problem with professionalism and creativity. Some of our alumni are now working as graphic designers in our association, some work in the animation field in our partner Phare Creative Studio, others in our sister organization the Cambodian Circus in the city of Siem Reap… 100% of our students used to find a job in the 3 months following their graduation, before the pandemic.
How many beneficiaries are supported by Phare Ponleu Selpak?
Approximately 1,000 people a year benefit from our subsidised artistic, general education and social support programs. It has been 27 years since our students, teachers and staff brought life to an organization grounded in values of solidarity, creativity, resilience and above all compassion, strengthening the social values we still carry today. Phare Ponleu Selpak has become a big family itself and of course we could not celebrate our achievements without counting on the families of our students who are supporting them in their education, and whose livelihoods are also positively impacted by their children’s sustainable income.
How does Phare Ponleu Selpak contribute to the cultivation of Cambodian identity and culture?
The Cambodian genocide has impacted the whole population. It removed artists and intellectuals, separated families, and left Cambodia with a generation of orphans. More than half of Cambodian population is under the age of 30. Phare Ponleu Selpak founders all come from refugee camps and this project is rooted in the question of rebuilding identity, but also of making Khmer culture and arts shine again. Besides training professionals, our work is directly linked to the duty of remembrance: our social circus shows bear the weight of powerful symbols related to Cambodia’s history. More than just teaching arts, developing social dialogue through a better access to culture and education became part of our long-term mission.