Phare Ponleu Selpak – News from the Circus School
We just received some updates from one of their programs – the circus school. But lets start with an introduction first. Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) is a Cambodian NGO working as an artistic association with the aim to revive Khmer culture and to overcome the trauma of war. They also support community development and provide social and educational help.
The idea of utilizing arts as an expression to overcome trauma of war originated in 1986 in a refugee camp on the Thai border and maintained until well after the refugees went back to their home in Battambang. In 1994, PPS was officially set up by a group of those refugees. PPS focuses its efforts on the rehabilitation of street kids, orphans and children living in high-risk situations.
What makes PPS stand out from other organizations is their quite exceptional approach: All their actions are focus on artistic practices which are not only used as a tool to foster expression, but also as a complete set of tools aimed at answering children’s psycho-social needs. On a broader level this “artistic approach” also aims at recovering parts of the Khmer cultural psyche that so heavily suffered from years of civil war and genocide. Reclaiming cultural practices and knowledge allows the next generations of Cambodians to rebuild their identity.
As part of their social activities PPS runs a Child Care Center, currently supporting 30 children on spot and another 46 staying with their families in their communities. Those children also benefit from the organization’s nutrition and medical support program as well as the educational and artistic support. PPS’s Leisure Center supports 150 children, providing a save environment for a variety of educative, cultural and leisure activities.
As for formal education PPS assists a public school on its compound in Battambang by providing support for the teachers’ training. Further, PPS’s leisure center and library are connected to the school to offer a more practical education to the current 1,250 pupils. PPS core areas of work are the the artistic schools:
– Visual Arts School
– Performing Arts School – divided into a Circus Arts section and a Theatre program
– Music School
The schools are open to all children and free of charge and currently accommodate 450 students for leisure and vocational training purposes. Starting over a decade ago the Circus School opened its doors to kids and teenagers for full day trainings in relevant disciplines such as: acrobatics, juggling, balancing, contortion, trapeze and clowning.
The positive outcome of this educational project becomes obvious as former students turn into teachers, motivated to pass on the positive experiences they received and others being offered positions within other productions in Cambodia and around the world. Further, as soon as a group of former students set up a show called ‘Bong Touch Bong Thom’ this developed into an immediate success.
Classes at the circus school are divided according to age and level, with eight teachers specialized in different areas to educate the 120 pupils. Guest teachers offer various additional courses related to performing arts to advocate open-mindedness towards new approaches amongst the students. The school provides a safe environment to keep kids off the streets as it is an inspiring place for children and wakes their ambitions.
The circus school runs its own performances. Until recently the school offered eight various shows to the public, with one even touring through France last year. A new show has now extended the school’s portfolio. Last year’s creation ‘Distant Haze’ was presented on Feb, 26th to the public during an arts competition by the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. The mixture of circus performance and contemporary theatrical play has been developed in cooperation with the Philippines Educational Theatre Association (PETA) and written by Khuon, PPS’s Artistic Director.
The students of the circus school performed ‘Distant Haze’ at the competition for an audience from all over Cambodia. The play was then awarded with a Golden Trophy for its strong emotional and dramatic story as well as the dynamic technical performance on March 3, 2011. PPS is a project that has been supported by Exotissimo through the inclusion of visits of the circus shows into the itineraries. If you are eager to help, enjoy one of their impressive shows while traveling in Cambodia or make a donation to the fund.