When we, the five EU Aid Volunteers from Greece, France, Spain and Hungary arrived in the city of Battambang in Cambodia, we were greeted with smiles, fresh local SIM cards, and our own desks with papers saying “Welcome - happy to see you here” on them. This friendly and welcoming atmosphere has helped us tremendously in turning from puzzled spectators into meaningful and organic parts of Phare Ponleu Selpak, our hosting organization.
For most of the temporary visitors to Battambang, Phare is one of the main attractions of the city, a fantastic local circus that combines acrobatic stunts with storytelling, without the involvement of animals. Now, after more than two months of working here, it is clear for me that it is much, much more. We have a kindergarten, a four year Visual and Applied Art School program focusing on painting, animation and graphic design, a music school, a dance company that not only teaches traditional Khmer dance, but also modern hip-hop. There is a shop with products designed by our students, an exhibition hall, and a whole state primary school on our campus. The activities reach beyond the Phare grounds too, through the social support department and the quickly growing community outreach program, as well as the weekly free performances by the circus students on the riverside, and the activities in our sister organization in Siem Reap.
Even though Phare Ponleu Selpak is a complex and independent system, it soon turned out that our expertise, time and enthusiasm could be put to good use here. In our respective fields of human resources, communication, finance, community outreach and education management, there is always room for improvement. We have problems to fix, development to help with, ideas to implement - all of which takes precious time.
I am personally very grateful to be able to budget with a whole year in my plans for helping Phare. Working on the curriculum, developing a feedback and evaluation system for teachers and students, and enhancing the experience that the students have at our schools does take time. I am just now starting to understand the dynamics, the underlying reasons behind some policies that did not make sense to me in the first days. Knowing that we still have plenty of time here ensures that we can do quality work, and see some of the changes turning into reality.
All in all, working for Phare is a truly rewarding experience. The mission to building resilience through the arts, education, and social work is a beautiful one, and I really enjoy being the part of this process every day. We do change lives by creating meaningful things, providing opportunities and empowering young people to pave their way towards employment, satisfaction, and self-realization.
"The friendly and welcoming atmosphere has helped us tremendously in turning from puzzled spectators into meaningful and organic parts of Phare Ponleu Selpak, our hosting organization"