By: Arthur Nguyen dao
Some Phare graduates cumulate the artistic education with another one and embrace different careers. Meet Pring Sopheara, Performing Arts School administrator.
Sopheara started to learn in Phare Ponleu Selpak in 2003 at the age of 15. Before he did not know about the school but got to see some performances in his secondary school. “I was very interested and I talked to the artists and teachers who came to perform in my school.” Afterwards, he came to visit the school and as he was not sure what he wanted to do he visited all the departments.
Sopheara was a pretty much forward music student. He actually started performing with circus artists, for theatre pieces and religious ceremonies after only 6 months of learning.
He had a rather unusual way to tell his family he wanted to be a musician. “Before coming to Phare, I used to ask my family for money in order to attend public school. After the first 6 months I stopped asking for money and I was asked how I could support myself. I had not told my family I was studying music because I wanted to surprise them with my ability to play. So I played and they were very surprised and happy. I wanted to show I could both learn music and attend public school for free.”
His favorite instrument is the xylophone. “I like it so much that sometimes I sneak in the music room to play.” Even though Sopheara left Phare for a few years, he says that music never really left him even when he had an office work.
“One day, I was on a field visit and I heard some musicians playing on a dirt road: I knew it was time to go back to Phare.”
Until 2011, Sopheara was a student of Phare. During this period, he was a volunteer in NGOs in the morning, and used to go to learn music in the afternoon. “It was very important for me to get both kinds of experiences: the one related to a future office job and the one related to artistic creation. The different NGOs I volunteered for were specialized in support to poor families with regards to issues of sanitation, hygiene, health, domestic violence and children working in mines. I was a facilitator and I worked in mediation and awareness-raising.” He is someone who is entirely driven by the prospect of helping other people.
The young man has even created his own association in 2005: Youth Voices. “We work with children who do not go to school anymore and struggle to support their families. The association does capacity-building workshops for them. We also work with old people who do not have a house built on their land.” He explains that his NGO does not have any donors so the finances are very limited. The solution he found is that the association buys the material and the community volunteers to build the house. For now he stopped working with Youth Voices but he explains that he always tries to bring some support whenever he can. “Now that I am back in Battambang I donate a part of my salary to help fund Youth Voices.”
Since May 2014, Sopheara is the Performing Arts School administrator. “I am very grateful to Phare because without Phare Ponleu Selpak I would not have been able to finish public school. Working for Phare is a way for me to give back and I understand the situation of the children who come from poor families like mine.”
He explains that he loves his job because he brings his contribution to give children tools for professional success and to support their families.
“For me, I do not work for Phare but for all the children who come to study arts.”
If you ask Sopheara if he has a best memory, it seems that his entire studies are the best memory. “I think it is the overall transformation from the poor child that I was to what I am today. When I started, my family was poor. However, I learnt music, I made many friends and step by step I earned money to perform and support my family.”
“Before Phare Ponleu Selpak I only thought about me. Phare opened my mind to think about other poor people too.”
Thanks to Phare, Sopheara actually traveled a lot. He toured with many shows. With the circus shows Phum Style, Holiday Ban Touy Ban Tom, Eclipse and the theatre piece L’histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, Roi du Cambodge (The terrible yet unfinished story of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia), he traveled to France, Spain and Japan.
“My first travel to France is the one which gave me the strongest memories. The first thing that struck me was how clean this country was and how different and comfortable the buildings were. I got to see the difference of public debates about politics too. I wanted Cambodia to be the same! Today, it is always an experience I talk about when I do capacity-building workshops for Cambodian young people.”
Even Sopheara’s professional dream is about helping people. He wants to become a good businessman and be able to fund the organization he would create with help of institutional donors. This organization would work with children, young adults and old people.
When it comes to the topic of getting a land in Siem Reap, he explains that Phare Ponleu Selpak and Phare, the Cambodian Circus are closely linked to each other. The objective for Phare, the Cambodian Circus is to be the solution of financial self-sufficiency for Phare Ponleu Selpak in times when getting funds is always hard. So if a land in Siem Reap means stable professional opportunities for the artists, it also means long term and constant funding for Phare Ponleu Selpak.