Meet the Team: Jean Noel

By Emily Martin

Jean Noel grew up in France and lived in Toulouse before moving overseas. He’s the performing arts manager at Phare Ponleu Selpak and has been working hard to help the students have a more controlled pathway to becoming professional artists of the highest level.


 What is your role at Phare Ponleu Selpak?

I am the manager of the artistic school which includes circus, music, theatre and dance. The role was created because the school is trying to bring in new processes to make the training more formal and to make it more sustainable and professional.

What’s your background?

I’ve been working in France in social activities, cultural activities, health programmes and to support young people to find jobs. I have really been working in the social services my whole professional life.

My personal and professional life is quite mixed together.

I have had three main experiences in my working life. The first was with young people trying to find jobs and working with them in terms of professional career, what training should be done, how to make a CV, find jobs and how to act in interviews.

My second main experience was with Gypsies and travellers. I worked with an NGO in France which started as a little organisation and then grew to the point where they were doing programmes with the EU union and other big partners in Europe. They were working not only for example kindergarten aged kids, but also how to make houses for the travellers if they want to settle down, how to have social activities with them, develop their social businesses etc. It was not just taking one part of the people, but including all their environment which makes up their whole life. We were trying to give them answers… or if we didn’t have answers then trying to connect them with other organisations which might have answers for them.

My third big experience was with a health programme against aids.

That was all the first part of my life in Toulousse in France. I had 20 years working there and I’ve also been trained on animation, direction of organisations, HR, accounting etc.

What brought you to Cambodia?

For men, at least, when you 40 years old it’s like a bridge between something and something else so I decided to leave Toulouse and switch to something else. I decided to move to get a job outside of France.

I actually worked in Haiti before coming to Cambodia. As through the organisation I worked for there that I came to Phnom Penh, working with ____ an organisation supporting families in the poor areas surrounding the city. It’s an empowerment programme.

I saw a job announcement for this position at PPSA and decided to apply…

Now what does your role involve at Phare?

Phare decided to open up this position because they saw that they were missing a managing position in the school and they wanted to have a more professional school which means upgrading the levels of the capacity of the students but also the teachers.

If you increase the level of the students and the teachers of course it will have an impact on their abilities to find jobs in other organisations and art programmes.

We’ve been offering further training for the teachers, training the team and we now have scheduling for the classes. Before it was just work with the students who came along when they could. Now we have classes with objectives, quarterly exams and a big final exam to pass from one level to the next level.

We’re trying to show them that it’s a school really providing q good experience so that you can reach a professional diploma. Showing them that this is a real training; you can learn how to cook, how to manage, how to do finance and you can do the same with this… you need to take it seriously.

What do you see as important in social work?

I have always been about supporting people but not trying to support in the way that ‘oh they are so poor, we have to support them – but more yes they’ve got competences, they’ve got skills and maybe they are not self-confident enough, maybe they need to realise this for themselves.

I want to help them empower themselves. This is what my meaning in life is. Supporting people to help them find by themselves what they could do, what they can do and what they are able to do.

What do you love about the work?

What is really exiting is to know that you are here for a short period of time, 2 or 3 years. You are here because people need to reinforce their capacities. They just need a shoulder for some time and then after they will do it by themselves. My purpose is, soon I will leave, I will leave my position to become an assistant to someone who will get my position. I know that in terms of career it’s completely crazy… but this is my purpose.

What makes Phare different to the other NGOS you’ve worked with?

First it’s an art school, but it has a global impact as well. We are working on the family, we are working on the children… Here we are first helping the children at school. To get them to come to school we need to make sure they don’t need to earn money for the family and for the parents to understand that it’s important for them to get this education… but for the moment how do you survive? So the social system works to accompany the family.

Have you ever been involved in performing arts?

Yes! I’ve been doing theatre since I was about 10 years old, I’ve been doing music since I was 13 years old. I like art, I like performing – in fact I am still performing. When I arrived in Phnom Penh there was a French theatre group that I joined.

I have also sometimes worked in lighting and so I’ve always been surrounded by artists. I like to perform I like to be part of cultural movement.

Why do you think art and performing art is so great for human development?

Doing theatre helps you develop your self-confidence. Even if you are shy, you begin to know how to act with an audience and then your everyday life is the same… without a big audience.

Developing arts is also so important to develop peoples’ imagination, their capacity of reactivity, their own personal universe, their mind.


Read more about the social mission of Phare, The Cambodian Circus and how is supports PPSA.

Makara is an up-and-coming musician who is studying at Phare – read his story.