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Phare, The Cambodian Circus

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Made With Love

The journey began in a refugee camp in Thailand during the war with Khmer Rouge.


The late Srey Bandol reminisced his time at the refugee camp.

"I saw a lot of everyday violence.
People kill, people raping, people play with guns."


There, the French humanitarian and an art teacher, Véronique Decrop from France used drawing classes to help the young Cambodians through the trauma.

"While my friends drew pictures of khmer Eouge killing people,
I drew lovers holding hands and beaches.

I used a stick of wood to draw Buddhist images on earth."


When the camp eventually closed after the war, 9 of the young men with the art teacher formed Phare Ponleu Selpak association - “Brightness of the Arts” in Battambang, with the purpose of helping the community to heal.


Srey Bandaul (Bottom Left) with Phare Ponleu Selpak co-founders and their inspiration, Véronique Decrop(Middle).

Art therapy is at the core of the school, as is the rebirth and revival of traditional and modern Cambodian arts. The program started with drawing, but expanded to include music, dance, theater and circus. Later, applied visual arts programs such as graphic design and animation were added.

Some students excelled and developed exceptional talent. The new challenge became how to create opportunity for them to have a future in the arts, and maybe at the same time generate revenue to support the school. Phare, The Cambodian Circus was born in February 2013 to accomplish the dual missions of providing well-paying jobs in the arts for the school's graduates and earn revenue to support free artistic and academic education at the school.

Fuelled With Passion

The founders, backers, management and staff all share the belief that with hard work and opportunities, Cambodians can accomplish anything. Cambodians are strong, determined and resilient, but many lack resources and opportunity. The circus creates opportunities. It is a story that revolves around transformation.


Dina Sok
"In Cambodia, i watched a film about Cirque du Soleil. When the show started,BOOM!"
I had goosebumps. One day, I will be part of that circus."

Dina become the first Cambodian to be part of Cirque du Soleil's "Volta".

We are determined to make Phare Circus, Phare Studio and any future business units of Phare Performing Social Enterprise the model social enterprise. Through business activities, we create jobs, support the revival of Cambodian arts and fund education for future generations.

Driven by Purpose

Through free education and well-paying jobs in the arts, previously at-risk Cambodian youth are able to earn a good living, supporting themselves and their families, and thus breaking the cycle of poverty. Phare Circus creates the jobs and revenue generated makes Phare Ponleu Selpak school less dependent on donations. Prior to the pandemic, revenue generated by the performances fully funded the operation of the business and 60% of the school's annual budget.

Phare Ponleu Selpak school and Phare, the Cambodian Circus are together helping young Cambodians transform their lives through art.


Phounam Pin was born to a poor family in a small village in Cambodia and started working as a trash picker at age 7, where she would walk to the city in the early morning to collect recycled bottles. Her father was abusive growing up, but that domestic violence was seen as a “family matter.” In addition, Pin said that her father was an alcoholic and a gambler, which made finding money for food a big concern. Her brother and three sisters dropped out of school to work.

However, her path changed when a social worker from the Phare Ponleu Selpak Association offered her the opportunity to attend art school. Pin was intrigued by the promised lunches, candies and cookies in the free school program.


"I feel so proud that I went from trash picker to a contortionist...a good contortionist."

Through the Cambodian Circus, Pin became an international star, supporting her family financially and pursuing education alongside her acrobatic career. She felt the limitation of her body after a wrist injury in 2009. Witnessing the limitations and risks of being an acrobat performer, Pin sought new opportunities, eventually arriving in the United States to study at Smith College, Massachusetts. Inspired by her experiences, she chose to major in government and minor in reproductive justice, aiming to become a human rights lawyer to fight against injustice and poverty in Cambodia.

Where You’ll Be

ACTIVITY

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