Phare Ponleu Selpak, the famed Battambang circus with its attached circus arts and art school and community programmes, has just won three international awards – two Stevie Awards and one from the Hermes Creative Awards.

Phare has also been nominated for the Stevie International Business Awards, thanks to its success in winning Stevie Awards for the Asia-Pacific region.

The Stevie Awards – which bills itself as the “World’s Premier Business Awards”, with judges that include “many of the world's most respected executives, entrepreneurs, innovators and business educators” – has eight different awards programmes, one of them being the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards.

Phare Ponleu Selpak executive director Osman Khawaja tells The Post: “We will now progress through to the next stage, which is competing against the whole world in the Stevie International Business Awards.

"What's wonderful about these particular awards is not just the encouragement they give to our staff at a very difficult time, but the fact they are awards focused on businesses and on effectiveness,” he says.

The goal is to work with more private sector businesses, which he notes are very active in supporting the arts in many parts of the world.

“We hope our increased exposure here and in the International Business Awards will help us to meet new partners in the private sector, who could sponsor scholarships for disadvantaged young people to attend our arts vocational programmes, partner on outreach events or even become long-term patrons of the Cambodian arts," Khawaja says.

The final results of the International Business Awards will be announced in August and a ceremony to celebrate the regional awards winners will be held online on July 14.

Phare’s clowns perform on stage. Scott Sharick

Phare won a Silver Award for “Innovation in the Use of Events” and a Gold Award for “Innovation in Non-Profit/NGO Events” for their Guinness Book of World Record’s record-setting marathon circus performance earlier this year.

The Stevie Awards’ judging committee this year was made up of CEOs and other corporate executives, entrepreneurs, business school professors and lecturers from a number countries in the Asia-Pacific region including China, Japan and Australia.

A judge for the Stevie Awards was quoted as saying that “it is amazing that a non-profit organisation put together such a grand event”, regarding Phare’s achievement.

“And what’s more, the way it was organised was really a great example of thinking outside-the-box! Well done to Phare and please continue with your mission to educate disadvantaged children,” the judge said.

Khawaja says: “I am incredibly proud of the whole Phare team, including our volunteers, partners and performers, who created an event so powerful that it has won three major awards in less than a month.”

Among the 29 countries in the 2021 Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards, more than 900 nominations from organisations across the region were considered this year.

“The eighth edition of the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards attracted many remarkable nominations,” said Stevie Awards president Maggie Gallagher.

“The organisations that won this year have demonstrated that they have continued to innovate and succeed despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and we applaud them for their perseverance and creativity,” she said.

Phare also won a Gold Hermes Creative Award for the marathon event. The Hermes Creative Awards are one of the longest-running international competitions for creative professionals in the world.

Phare’s circus performers show off their abilities in a world record attempt. Scott Sharick

The Hermes award went to Phare’s team along with their marketing partners at Box Clever Creative based out of the UK and the team at Cellcard that worked with Phare to sponsor the event.

All of this international recognition stems from when Phare made history earlier this year. Its 90 circus performers succeeded in pulling off a 24-hour circus performance to set the world record on March 7-8.

“The event has now raised $130,000 – with more than $30,000 coming from over 4,000 individual Cambodians,” says Khawaja.

The record attempt – sponsored by Cellcard – was crucial to raising funds for supporting its educational programmes.

“However, we still have to raise more than $100,000 to keep our programmes alive for the rest of the year. We hope this will inspire people to believe in us and support us. While Covid-19 rages across Cambodia, we cannot earn income through our normal circus shows,” Khawaja says.

Founded in 1994 by a group of Cambodians who grew up in a refugee camp after surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide, Phare Ponleu Selpak is widely-recognised for its circus performances and arts education programmes.

“We hope that people will be inspired by the achievements of our performers to donate so that we can keep going and help more disadvantaged children rise above their circumstances and dazzle the world in the future,” Khawaja says.

The 24-hour show included acts from 31 different shows from Phare’s 20-year circus history including acrobatics, magic, dance, theatre, clowning, music, contortion, singing, puppetry, breakdancing, live painting, unicycling, fire acts and more.

The performers took to the stage in shifts, making sure there were no repetitions and that they were able to take rests between performances.

The Phare team. Jaime Gill

The live 24-hour circus show in Battambang was viewed by over half a million people online, both locals and international netizens.

Heng Dara, perhaps Phare’s most famous clown, said that “it was an incredible experience to be on stage knowing that people all over the world were watching Cambodia set this record”.

Natacha Kim of France commented on Facebook: “You gave people in your community and around the world a once-in-a-lifetime show!

“You are a model of the resilience and courage of the Khmer people. I hope you reach your goal to get through these tough Covid times and we will be able to watch many other performances in the future,” she continued.

Roisin Hansen, from Singapore, commented: “Oh my goodness you guys are amazing! What a feat! What a privilege to bear witness to this.”

The awards are early recognition for the success of the world record-setting event, with more expected to come when Guinness finishes assessing the extensive evidence and Phare hopefully becomes the official world record holder.

While the live broadcast is substantive evidence that a new world record was sent, Khawaja says Guinness will need to assess the event rigorously through witness statements, video, photography and more, as they do take their book of records quite seriously.

“This process can take four months. If confirmed, this will be one of just 10 Guinness World Records that Cambodia holds – and the first new one set in three years,” Khawaja says.

Cambodia’s oldest record – pre-dating Guinness and its awards, in fact – has been held by Angkor Wat for the past thousand years or so. It is the world’s largest religious structure ever built – with an enclosed area of over 160ha containing 72 monuments.

The Khmer language holds the record for the most characters used in its script at 74, though some of them have fallen out of common usage.

The longest hand-woven scarf with a length of 1,149.8m was made in Cambodia and announced by Guinness World Records in 2018, while in the same year Cambodia set another world record for building the longest dragon boat at 87.3m.

For more information about Phare you can check out their website or Facebook page: @phareponleuselpak.