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Meet the Stars – Vannara NOUV

By Emily Martin

Vannara is one of Phare Ponleu Selpak’s first generation graduates. She has been involved with the school for almost 20 years now, firstly as a student, then as a performer and now she’s working in the social service support programme, working with youth who have drug and alcohol issues.


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Tell me about your family…

My mother is a cook at PPSA and has been cooking food for the children for more than 10 years. It’s part of the child protection unit- providing food for the children who need it.

I also have 4 siblings. One used to be a technician at PPSA. The others didn’t study at the school, or go to any school at all because my mum was poor. My father left us when I was not even born so my mum had to raise 4 children by herself. Only my brother and me could go to school at PPSA… my mother by herself was unable to feed 4 children so the others lived with other families.

My other siblings are married now and live with their own families… I still live with my mother in Battambang as well as my husband and daughter.

How did you come to Phare?

I started performing when I was very young to be able to help my mother. The social worker group knew my family very well and they tried to help by offering a job to my mum as a cook there. That was more than 10 years ago and thanks to that she is able to earn an income and she’s still a cook there today.

What skill did you specialise in when studying at Phare?

I learnt everything – I knew everything! In the first generation I was the most outgoing girl and performer. I wasn’t scared to do things… like a monkey!

But I had an accident during rehearsal and injured myself so I had to stop for a while… then I only focused on clowning.

What has Phare given you apart from performing skills?

If there was no Phare Ponleu Selpak, I do not know what I would be doing now. PPSA gave me an opportunity for a better life. There has been a lot of help from PPSA to the community that I live in as well.

The art has given me a lot. Now I am able to help many people in the society. I can help the society as a whole – especially those who have drug and alcohol issues. I think my life, I live with art. I think people need art in their life. It should be part of lifestyle and daily living. To solve a problem, for example, art can be used. I use art therapy with my family and I can see lots of changes in them. It helps them and me a lot.

Are you still performing?

Not really, but I still love it very much. And even now that I have a child I still want to be a performer. I still love performing.

What do you do at Phare now?

I work in the social services department focusing on art therapy for people who are caught up in alcohol and drug abuse in Battambang.

In my team I have 4 kinds of art that I use, music, theatre, circus and drawing. I coordinate with a group of leaders who specialise in each of the disciplines and I bring them together. I teach art therapy and health so that the people I’m working with can learn to help themselves.

What do you do with the people involved?

Sometimes we do one on one consulting with them and then sometimes we do drawing with them, getting them to show their feelings and we play them a soft song so they can sit and think while talking about what they are thinking about.

We don’t only work with them in this context but also when they are sent back to their families we do counselling and follow up with them afterwards to make sure they are still progressing.

I think that most of the people like the art and music aspect. In the beginning a lot of people don’t want to share their feelings. They don’t smile, or laugh or look at each other and then after I work with them for a few weeks, or a month you can see how much it changes. They can talk, they can laugh and they can smile with each other.

The thing that I enjoy the most is helping them help themselves.

What do you do with your family in your down time?

We don’t actually get much time together because my husband must study full time at the weekend. But when we do have time I enjoy spending time with my daughter and most of the time we go to the shop, playing gams outside and shopping. I also really enjoy making my family laugh and be happy. I do small clown shows for my wee girl.

What’s your dream for the future?

If I could study I wish I could study about theatre and be a professional artist. I want to direct and create shows. For the university I’m not interested at all with the management, or anything, I just want to be a professional artist.

When I was young I wanted to be world famous. Now yes I am known maybe in Siem Reap, Battambang… but I want a bit more.

Does having a family, a child, affect you reaching that goal?

Yes definitely… I think about my family when I have a performing opportunity out of town. Maybe it’s a while for the family, or it’s difficult… it’s hard to decide.

I don’t travel out of town all that much anymore. My family are more understanding now though about how I love performing… there are not a lot of performing opportunities for me now though because I had to turn down a lot of projects before so people don’t often come to me anymore.

Do you have time to practice your own art?

IT’s very busy at PPSA so there isn’t much room for me to come up with my own creations. But being a clown, is always improvisation anyway. I practice at home every day in front of a mirror. I practice body language and facial expressions that I am not yet comfortable with and that I’m not sure people will laugh at. I practice to make it clear.

As the lead artist in the drug rehabilitation project… I present my shows or acts I’ve created to the people I’m supporting and working with.