By: Arthur Nguyen dao
You saw the performers of Phare in Siem Reap or in Battambang, you plan on coming to Cambodia and have a socially responsible nightlife in the near future, so you know about Phare and you have heard its many names. Phare Ponleu Selpak, Phare the Cambodian Circus, Phare Performing Social Enterprise. Why so many names? Are there one or more circuses?
Here is the tale of Phare.
Once upon a time in Cambodia, there was one of the most terrible conflicts of recent history. People suffered, people died, people fled. Among those who fled, 9 children ended up in a Red Cross refugee camp in Thailand. There, an event vividly changed their lives and those of many others although they had no idea about it at the time.
In the said camp, the 9 refugees had the unique opportunity to receive art therapy from a French doctor. This was an innovative way to try to cure the psychological suffering endured by the people fleeing the Khmer Rouge violence and massacres.
One day, violence ceased and the 9 refugees came back home. They had to start everything anew. Seeing the damage done to the Khmer society and the priceless benefit of recovering through arts, the 9 refugees knew what to do: build a school. Artists were targeted and killed. Some say because they are maybe the wisest of the society.
Everything starts again with a school in Battambong. Everything starts with peace, education, knowledge and fun.
This is the time of giving. Everyday some 1,200 children are in a safe place, fed and educated to a peaceful life, for free. But after years of unimaginable atrocities, some marks cannot be erased that easily.
This is the time of sharing. If arts allowed 9 refugees to grow up and recover from their great suffering, why would it not work for young children as well? Here comes the name Phare Ponleu Selpak: Brightness of the Arts.
Like any other NGO, sustainability is one of the main concerns. The idea is to create a business to get a stable source of revenue. But not any business: a social business.
Phare Performing Social Enterprise is then created in 2013 to ensure financial sustainability, longer life for Phare Ponleu Selpak to be able to continue giving the unique opportunity to learn arts to children.
The social business has several units. The one most people are familiar with, of course, is Phare, the Cambodian Circus, with nightly performances, a boutique featuring original artwork from Phare students and graduates and a cafe, where guests can enjoy dinner before or after the show. Another unit is Phare Productions, producing private shows for holidays and corporate events all around Cambodia. There is also Phare Productions International, whose mission is to organize tours around the globe. In the future, there are plans for Phare Graphic Design & Animation Studio, providing job opportunities to the visual arts students from Phare Ponleu Selpak.
The enterprise has a three-fold social mission.
Creating gainful career opportunities for the artists, which is the job of Phare Production and Phare the Cambodian Circus.
Financially sustaining Phare Ponleu Selpak by giving it as much money as possible. This takes many different aspects. There are the royalties paid to Phare Ponleu Selpak for playing the shows, because the school owns them. Also, artists are hired for private events. The donation box at the end of the show is meant to finance specific projects, such as school equipment or international tours. Phare Ponleu Selpak owns 71% of Phare Performing Social enterprise, so 71% of the profits are given to the school, whether they come from the tickets, Phare Boutique or Phare Cafe. Then, the other investors signed a Social Charter according to which all the dividends they receive will be used to the profit of Phare Ponleu Selpak or any social project of their choice. In a few years, an animation and graphic design studio will be created to develop the professional opportunities of the Visual Arts students.