We sat down with our longtime partner local community organization PHARE Circus, a beloved institution for both local and international guests to Cambodia. In celebration of their full schedule re-opening of performances we encourage our guests to learn from and support PHARE Circus as they continue to support our communities in Battambang and Siem Reap we interviewed Craig Dodge, Director of Sales & Marketing, below, please forgive any errors in transcribing below and thank you Craig for your time.
Please share the origin story of PHARE for our partners who may not know.
It all started in a refugee camp in Thailand during the Cambodian civil war. An art teacher from France used drawing classes for the young refugees to get through the trauma. After the war was over and the camp closed down, the teacher and several of the young men opened Phare Ponleu Selpak Association in Battambang to use art to help heal the community. It grew from drawing classes to add music, dance, drama, circus and applied visual arts (graphic design and animation). The school also has a K-12 academic facility.
As some of the students worked very hard and developed serious skills, the school had to think of a way to give them a future in the arts, and even better if it can help make the school more financially sustainable. That’s where the idea of Phare Circus was born. The business opened in Siem Reap in 2013, providing well-paying jobs to the graduates and funding for the school through ticket and private event sales. Guests enjoy a great show, with the added benefit of knowing they’re helping sustain jobs and fund free artistic and academic education.
How does PHARE support and improve the lives of the participants?
Speaking just from the perspective of Phare Circus in Siem Reap, at-risk Cambodian youth are able to transform their lives through well-paying jobs in the arts. They earn good money performing in the Siem Reap big top, providing entertainment at events throughout Cambodia and even performing overseas. They are able to support themselves and their families, buy land, build homes and more. They also have life experiences never available before.
Phare Circus also provides personal development and continuing education. Artists and staff have frequent opportunities for training in their fields, how to manage newly attained finances and in fields of interest for after their performing career.
Besides earning a good salary, Phare Circus participates in the national healthcare program as well as provides additional health insurance to artists, staff and a family member.
For our guests that want a special experience beyond seats at the show, how can they interact and elevate their understanding of PHARE?
Guests can arrange 90-minute circus workshops, learning a few basic circus skills, training techniques while engaging directly with the artists they’ll see in the show.
“Phare Insider” was recently launched, providing guests with a 30-minute tour and introduction to the project, including a back-stage visit before the show.
Phare Circus artists can be engaged to provide off-site entertainment at special events, corporate galas, cocktail parties, temple dinners and just about any other occasion.
How was the organization able to successfully navigate the pandemic and continue to support the community?
Perseverance, determination, creativity, resilience, sacrifice and an enormous amount of support from people around the world who believe in the project. Phare Ponleu Selpak non-profit school provides an invaluable service to the community with free artistic and academic education, community support programs and cultural revival. Phare Circus is critical to providing jobs and funding, an essential part of the school’s future survival.
What are you most excited about with the return of international tourism to Cambodia? Any new plans or exciting news?
The government did an awesome job during the pandemic repairing and paving roads, adding sidewalks and bike paths and beautifying the river parks. Siem Reap is an even more walkable town than before. The bike paths through Angkor park offer an incredible opportunity to experience the temples in a unique way.
It’s thrilling to see activity again, with travelers walking around Old Market and visiting Angkor Park. There is also an amazing opportunity to hit the reset button and build quality, more sustainable tourism that puts more money into the local economy without the negative impact on environment. The first visitors have been keenly interested in sustainability, experiences and authenticity. I’m hopeful this will continue.
It’s going to take a long while to financially recover from the past 3 years, but we’re still looking forward to creating an “Arts Village” at our current venue, where we bought land behind us before the pandemic. We hope to make it a space where other visual and performing arts groups can more easily engage with visitors. There are also plans to create a new kind of experience in Phnom Penh and possibly Sihanoukville along the lines of an interactive dinner theater. First task is to get back on our feet.
Any other highlights or information you’d like to share?
Travelers considering a visit to Siem Reap should plan more than a couple days at the temples. Otherwise, they will miss so much. The early post-pandemic travelers are getting the idea. Plan longer in one place and really take it all in. Kulen Elephant Forest, Angkor Zipline, hiking on Kulen Mountain and Kbal Spean, biking around Angkor Park, visit floating villages by boat, sunset on Tonle Sap, scores of fabulous restaurants and lounges (local and international), relaxing spas, art galleries and studios, traditional and modern performing arts, and just an endless list of things to do. At the end of it all, plan a few days on one of the pristine beaches on Koh Rong or other islands.