Phare Circus: Siem Reap, Cambodia – a must visit

A circus in Siem Reap?  Absolutely! And, it’s become one of the city’s biggest attractions – and has a positive social impact.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, of course, has the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex and the awful, infamous Pub Street but it also has many charity and community projects like Phare Circus which aid this still-troubled country. (see also my blog about the HeroRATS) Both initiatives benefiting great causes as do many of the places we visited, ate at or bought from during our week there.

Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is an offshoot project of Phare Ponleu Selpak – a Cambodian non-profit, non-governmental association founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodian ex-refugee artists in the area of Anchanh Village, Ochar Commune, Battambang Province – a few years ago I spent a week in Battambang, (on the other side of Tonle Sap) right opposite the market and loved it.

The Phare Ponleu ‘helps vulnerable children, young adults and their families, build careers of Cambodian Artists, to revive Cambodian art scenes, to make worldwide arts connections with Cambodia and to contribute to the artistic, educational and social programs of PPS Association.’

When I, and a friend, attended the circus, it meant we were doing more than paying to be entertained: our money benefited the growing arts scene in Cambodia, that is, helping talented young people get the opportunity, income, or training access in which to develop, and showcase, their skills.

The Phare Circus is an incredible hour of traditional and modern theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, athleticism, juggling and contortion all beautifully choreographed and performed in stories about Cambodian lives and society. We loved it and talking to the young people after the show reinforced the value of attending.

Shows, each of a different theme or ‘tale ’change about every eight days. It seems tales, and sayings, are a big part of the local culture and the circus is an extension and visual representation of this with the moral of the shows often being about facing your fears in order to overcome them. The performance we saw was about being different, and bullying – combining laughter, happiness, music, and entertainment in a superbly presented show.

I recommend getting advance reservations during high season. (November through April) as performances sell-out most nights during this period.

It’s more than ‘just’ a circus, and the performers use – with energy, emotion, enthusiasm, and talent – theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories – historical, folk and modern. What’s even better – no animals!

All the Phare artists are students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s – an association which was formed in 1994 by young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime.

“They were greatly helped during that time by an art teacher using drawing classes as therapy and wanted to share this new skill among the poor, socially deprived and troubled youngsters in Battambang. They founded an art school and public school followed to offer free education. A music school and theatre school were next and finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the alternative schools. Phare Ponleu Selpak also has extensive outreach programs, trying to help with the problems highlighted in their own tales.”

Phare The Cambodian Circus offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and a place to earn a decent wage, money that takes them out of poverty and provides self-respect and freedom. Many of the performers have gone on to be employed by the likes of Cirque du Soleil and Phare Circus also travels the world so you may see them in your backyard!

Phare, The Cambodian Circus is one of Cambodia’s most innovative social enterprise models. Profits generated through ticket, refreshment, merchandise and private performance sales support the free education, professional arts training and social support programs of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang. It is one of the business units of Phare Performing Social Enterprise, along with Phare Creative Studio. Other business units will come soon. The circus survives through sales of tickets, merchandise, refreshments and private events. Ideally, the business will do better than just pay bills, but also make a profit from these activities. The majority shareholder is Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO School. Therefore, the majority of the profits go to support the school’s free education and social support programs to 1200 students daily.

Circus Phare The Cambodian Circus a responsible, social business in many other ways too. While always keeping an eye on making a profit to send to the school, other efforts are made to benefit society when possible. We both bought some items in the Phare Boutique shop as it supports local artisans and craftspeople. (higher quality souvenirs or gifts than you will find in the big markets – where many items are imported ☹) Royalties for each show performed -that was created at the school –  are paid to the school before profit is calculated. The business invests a great deal in the personal and professional development and the welfare of the artists and staff and participates in many community activities, sharing art with Cambodian people who otherwise might not be able to experience it.

The school survives mainly on donations and earns some revenue through sales of show tickets, merchandise and refreshments, but it depends mainly on donations. Maybe you can help – each little bit helps – and, if I get back to Cambodia, I plan on visiting the school.

 

Tips on how to handle grief . . . even suicide

. . . during holidays such as Christmas, Halloween or an anniversary

Each year we hear of the pressure’s families feel during December – stress from overspending, unrealistic expectations, and often, violence due to alcohol and other drugs.

Pressures like these are multiplied when we’re grieving.

Decisions about a Christmas tree or it to send cards need to be made. Yes? No? Maybe? Will the children want to hang stockings as usual? Will we continue with family traditions or make new ones? Talking about these issues helps not only our decisions but also helps both our grief and our mourning.

Just to be clearer, grief is about our feelings, while mourning is about the actions and rituals we do around a death. Both need our attention.

I’ve not found one right or wrong way of working through grief: just ways that helped me and others I’ve supported during my years as a counsellor – and especially when I was working full time as a bereavement counsellor. I also know the anticipation was always worse than the actual occasion whether that was Christmas, birthday or another anniversary. So, like Christmas, or another anniversary approaches, do what feels right for you – gut instinct worked well for me.

Strange as it may seem, while being necessary, grief is also a privilege: it stems from giving and receiving love. Just as love doesn’t end with death, neither does grief end with the funeral. Sometimes our grief is more painful as the weeks and months pass.

It can be more intense on birthdays; on the birthday of the person who died as well as our own, and, especially for children of the deceased, reaching the age of the loved one who suicided can be critical. Holidays, special family dates and anniversaries all alter the intensity of our grief. These dates may not adversely affect all the family, although the first experience of each event is usually traumatic. The first anniversary of a death can be especially painful as we relive the events of a year ago

So, how will you cope? Will you make a plan or take it as it comes? Most people find simple advance planning helpful; just remember that plans are not carved in stone and they can be changed even at the last minute. For instance, you decide to be on your own then find you want company – if this happens don’t berate yourself for the change, after all, it’s impossible to plan how we will feel in the future so live in the present time, in the ‘now’. I hope these tips will help you, and help your friends, understand grief.

Be as gentle, compassionate, and loving to yourself as you would to a grieving friend. Memories are yours to keep so talking, laughing, and crying over them means you are growing through your grief. By the time the first anniversary arrives most of us have realised that ignoring grief does not make it go away. Conversely, talking about our pain does not make grief worse, although sometimes, or often, it may feel that way.

Often friends stop talking about the deceased person as they assume that when you cry ‘they have made you feel bad’ – as if their talk could increase our pain – we know how painful it is and know their talk cannot intensify it. I believe it’s because they feel uncomfortable with our tears and not their concern for us that stops them from talking about the person. It’s difficult to explain to them that our crying is beneficial. No-one ever says they had a bad cry, it’s always ‘I had a good cry.’

At Christmas, some of us choose to change our routine and be away from our usual surroundings. The choice is yours. Don’t do what you think you ‘should’ do – those ‘shoulds’ are rarely helpful.

Friends and family may urge you to ‘keep active’, ‘get on with life’, ‘you have to let her go’ and other non-helpful advice such as ‘he wouldn’t want to you keep crying’. I am sure you have heard all these and other such homilies. One I hated was ‘you’re lucky to have other children’ – as if our children were interchangeable.

Keeping busy will not heal grief. Experience shows that increases stress and merely postpones or denies the need to talk, feel, and cry. ‘Time heals’ the vague ‘they’ also say. Not true. It’s what we do with the time that does the healing: ask anyone who used medication to dull the pain – when the pills stopped the pain was still there, just waiting to be dealt with. As a past colleague said, ‘time doesn’t heal; it doesn’t get better, what happens is things get different.’

Eat healthy, natural foods or have vitamin supplements if your health practitioner recommends them. Rest is important and exercise, such as walking, can be of immense value. Walking is good at any time but especially now if you are feeling tired or not sleeping well: others prefer a good workout at the gym, run, or cycle. I don’t.

Special dates often, in fact usually, have no significance to anyone else, so be prepared to take what you need. Your grief is your right and I encourage you to claim it. Don’t allow others to damage it because of their ignorance.

If you haven’t tried journal writing now is a good time to see if it helps you – many love their notebook that listens to everything and makes no judgment.

The Canterbury Bereaved by Suicide Society (who I worked for) wrote the following for one of their pamphlets and newsletter – and these ideas apply to all deaths whether heart attack of cot-death, road accident or cancer

    • Remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk to.
    • Use your loved one’s name. Talk about them, good times, bad times, and other holiday memories.
    • Eliminate as much stress as possible. Plan ahead, keep it simple. Ignore others expectations.
    • Involve your children in your discussions and planning…it will help their grief too.
    • Do what is right for you and your family, don’t be pressured into doing things that aren’t OK
    • Use whatever form of spirituality is meaningful to you.
    • Pace yourself physically and emotionally, be tolerant of your limitations…grief is tiring!
    • Christmas will come no matter how much you may not want it. You will survive.
    • Remember the worst has already happened!
    • Take one day at a time, one hour at a time.
    • Anticipation of the event is always worse than the actual day.
    • Buy a special gift and give it to a charity in your loved one’s name
    • Burn a candle over Xmas to symbolise their presence in your thoughts.
    • Write a letter to them in your journal. Describe how Xmas is without them.
    • Change holiday habits: Xmas breakfast instead of dinner, restaurant instead of at home.
    • Keep all your holiday habits. For some, the familiar is reassuring.
    • Expressing your feelings honestly always helps.
    • Volunteer to work at the local mission, old folks home.
    • Have a special toast to absent loved ones before the main meal.
    • Tie a remembrance ribbon on the Xmas tree – your tree, or the town one.
    • Set aside an evening to look at photos and talk about him or her.
    • Make a memory book. Children find this really helpful too.
    • Make a list of things you found helpful to share with others – and keep for next year as grief, although it reduces, continues.

I have learnt to live around the hole in my heart – and you can too.

Heather Hapeta (photographer, author, travel writer)

My Amazon Author page is here

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