“Art is integral for human development, for freedom of expression, for dreaming … but perhaps it’s even more important for young people in a country like Cambodia,” Suon Bun Rith muses.
As director of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), an arts hub, school and orphanage for disadvantaged children in the outskirts of Battambang, Rith and his team assist almost 80 children bearing emotional and physical scars – victims of trafficking, domestic violence and extreme poverty. They provide medical support, meals, education and a unique arts and performance program.
The NGO’s raison d’etre, however, was always to reinvigorate the arts in Cambodia among the country’s young through a unique arts and performance program, and it now houses three artistic schools in Battambang. Free of charge, they are open to all and now teach 450 children painting, cartooning, acting, circus acrobatics, music and theatre.
Last week, the organisation was hailed as one of 11 recipients of an annual, worldwide award from Dutch body the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development (PCFCD).
Awarded a €25,000 prize, the award was a “complete, but very pleasant surprise” for Rith and his team, who had been nominated by a mystery advocate.
“I think this is a great opportunity and honours our work and our belief in the arts, I believe we may be the first Cambodian group to win this award.
“We are empowering the youth by using culture as a medium for young people, it’s a very specific award,” he says
The award couldn’t have come at a better time for PPS, Rith says, as wild weather in July had ripped the roof off one of the schools.
“We didn’t have the money to fix it and even though we are not a cultural heritage site, PCFCD also gave us a grant of €1,000 to fix it.”
The award money will be used to upgrade facilities and hygiene systems in surrounding villages and boost staff and resources at the centre.
To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at [email protected]