Highly regarded local non-profit arts organisation Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) recently clinched a victory in the 8th Annual Shorty Impact Awards, triumphing in the Contest and Challenges category. 

Their accomplishment involved setting a Guinness World Record for the longest circus performance, lasting an impressive 24 hours, 30 minutes and 10 seconds. Beyond its record-breaking nature, this feat served the purpose of raising vital funds to navigate the financial challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

PPS stands out further as the sole Cambodian group acknowledged by the Shorty Impact Awards, an international awards programme dedicated to celebrating purpose-driven work from brands, agencies and nonprofits that strive to make the world a better place, making the group’s achievement particularly noteworthy. 

Osman Khawaja, the executive director of PPS, expresses his enthusiasm for the award, emphasising how it spotlights both Battambang and Cambodia as significant players in the global arts and culture scene.

“We’re ecstatic about the Shorty Impact Award, reaffirming how Phare’s 24-hour circus record shone a spotlight on Battambang and Cambodia in the arts and culture realm,” Khawaja says.

PPS distinguished itself among numerous participants worldwide, including the US, Canada, India, Ukraine, UK, Palestine and the Philippines, and the executive director notes PPS’s competition with world famous players like M&M’S and RuPaul’s Drag Race in the same category.

PPS maintains a broad mission—empowering children, youth and local communities through the arts. Originating in 1994 from students in a Thai-Cambodia border refugee camp, the organisation offers diverse artistic and instructional activities, spanning music, dance, visual arts, theatre, circus, animation and graphic design.

“These educational programmes are provided free of charge to over 800 students, changing lives through art and providing opportunities for future professional and self-sufficient careers in the arts,” explains Khawaja.

Distinguished recognition

The awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles, California, USA on November 13, with over 200 attendees and notable members of the Real Time Academy—an assembly of experts and leaders in digital and social media selected for their extensive industry knowledge, professional reputation and notable achievements.

This recognition elevates PPS into a distinguished list of past winners, including high-profile figures and groups across various fields. Amidst the pandemic, performing arts associations worldwide confronted unprecedented challenges, and PPS was no exception. The prolonged closure of their regular performances and educational programmes posed a threat to their survival.

In response, they leveraged their expertise in performing arts to create a compelling approach to generate funds essential for sustaining operations and supporting their community of artists and students. Performers and staff at PPS united in solidarity, presenting a range of performances, from acrobatics and juggling to aerial feats and clowning.

Approaching its 30th anniversary, PPS is gearing up for the Sangke River Run, a pioneering long-distance running and cycling event along the Sangke River in Battambang, scheduled for January 20, 2024. This 30-km challenge not only tests endurance but also provides a unique opportunity for athletes. 

Khuon Chanreaksmey, PPS’s director of projects and one of the event organisers, notes the growing interest in running and cycling in Cambodia, and this run reflects that trend. While entry is free, participants are encouraged to fundraise for the group’s arts and youth education programmes.

More than a race, the event will also serve as a celebration of the group’s 30 years of improving lives through the arts and a fundraiser for ongoing programmes. Starting at the foot of Phnom Banan, near an 11th-century Hindu and Buddhist temple, the race winds along the Sangke River, passing through rice fields, bridges, and downtown Battambang—a recently designated UNESCO Creative City. The finish line will be on the PPS campus.

Arts and cultural heart

Chanreaksmey notes that beyond fundraising for the school, the event aims to promote Battambang as a travel destination, strengthening its position as an arts and cultural hub. Participants will also receive a complimentary ticket to the Phare Battambang Circus, held under the same big top where the world record was set.

“This event offers a scenic 30-kilometer route along Battambang’s iconic river. Athletes are invited to be the inaugural finishers of this challenge. Participation is free, but we encourage fundraising for Phare’s arts and youth education programmes. The Sangke River Run aims to raise $300,000 for ongoing arts education and youth programmes in Battambang,” he says.

The coming event has registered participants hailing from Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, Belgium, France and the US. Organisers anticipate additional registrations in the coming two months.

“Our goal in organising this event is not only to raise funds for the school but also to establish Battambang as a destination for travellers,” says Chanreaksmey. “In the future, we envision the Sangker River Run becoming an annual event for the city and province of Battambang, enhancing its role as the arts and cultural heart of Cambodia.” 

The event will feature separate routes for individual runners, cyclists and relay teams of three covering 10 km each. 

“As we mark 30 years of Phare Ponleu Selpak, I eagerly anticipate the potential for transforming lives through the arts in the next 30 years. I believe we’re just at the starting line of what’s possible,” Khawaja says.