Take an evening to witness the pure joy that is the Phare Circus: a bright, energetic show that transforms the futures of thousands of Cambodia's disadvantaged youth. Exciting and uplifting, whether you're on a family holiday or simply young at heart.
Sometimes, amidst the inevitable lip-service, a community tourism project truly shines out as wonderful and real. A bright place that is genuinely doing astonishing things. Phare Ponleu Selpak — "the brightness of the arts" — is a beautiful example of this, and we try to pay them a visit whenever we're in Cambodia.
The headline act of this community-based project is the Phare Circus itself, which is probably the bit that you'll see, but this wonderful performance is just the pinnacle of what the foundation actually achieves. Its non-profit arts school in Battambang trains disadvantaged children and young people in the most extraordinary set of skills, from the acrobatics and musicianship that we're so impressed by in the ring, to behind-the-scenes stuff such as set design and promotion. Along with creating sustainable performing arts careers for Cambodian kids, the foundation supports their communities with social work outreach and programs that also benefit older survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Projects like these are tricky to get right. Donations are nice, but for long-term change you want to support a community while it builds its own strong foundations. Ones which its members (especially the youngsters) can depend on while they escape the poverty cycle by developing skills and confidence. Cambodia is only just recovering from the economic impact of the Khmer Rouge, and still depends a great deal on foreign investment. It's a long way off having social services, and for most kids education is still minimal.
Each year, Phare supports over 1,000 students who would otherwise be at risk of dropping out of school, experiencing domestic violence, drug abuse, or illegal migration to Thailand where they are liable to exploitation. The foundation wholeheartedly believes in the healing power of the arts. It sees practice as both therapy and training, leading to a holistic set of skills — and a sustainable arts scene — which help to resolve these social problems.
Phare puts the needs of the children first, making sure its care and education is high quality. You can volunteer, but only if you can commit to at least three months (less if you have specialist skills that are needed but won't involve contact with the kids), and volunteer intake is very limited. The foundation's sponsorship programme is collective, so that every child benefits. If you'd like to make a donation, please visit this page.