In a vibrant display of international camaraderie and athletic prowess, Phare Ponleu Selpak, a local non-profit arts and circus centre based in Battambang province, is set to host its inaugural long-distance running and cycling event along the picturesque Sangke River in the namesake provincial town. 

Slated for January 20, this eagerly anticipated event has already attracted 160 runners and cyclists from an impressive 12 countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, the UK and US. 

This 30-km challenge, aptly named the Sangke River Run, forms a core part of the organisation’s year-long 30th anniversary celebrations. 

The event is open to solo runners, relay runners and cyclists. It begins at the foot of Phnom Banan, near an 11th-century Hindu and Buddhist temple, and follows a scenic track past rice fields, over suspension bridges and through the town, ending at the Phare campus. 

The route for cyclists will vary slightly from the running route to ensure safety and smoothness for cyclists on road bikes.

“We are excited to welcome runners and cyclists from all over the world who’ve registered to join us for the event and to fundraise for the school,” says Phare executive director Osman Khawaja. 

“The event is already shaping up well and will showcase Battambang as a destination for arts and culture as well as the beautiful landscape along the river,” he says.

Far more than a test of endurance, this event is a crucial fundraiser, aiming to generate $300,000 to bolster the school’s vital arts, education and youth initiatives, nurturing the next generation of creative minds.

Circus of dreams

Phare Ponleu Selpak, which means “the brightness of the arts”, has been pioneering arts education in Cambodia for over three decades. 

At its core, the centre offers an extensive curriculum, encompassing visual arts, music, dance, theater and the internationally acclaimed Phare Circus troupe. 

These initiatives are not only about creative skill development but also serve as therapeutic mediums for self-expression and psychological healing, especially for youth who have faced significant challenges.

The organisation provides a range of educational opportunities, from primary schooling to vocational training, ensuring that students receive a well-rounded education that prepares them for future success.

As of December 31, the event has raised $17,730, representing six per cent of its fundraising target. 

Though registration for the race officially closed on December 20, the spirit of the event continues to thrive. Numerous runners and cyclists remain actively engaged in fundraising efforts, leveraging the power of the SimplyGiving online crowdfunding platform to reach their financial goals. 

“Our ambition in creating and organising this large-scale event wasn’t just to fundraise for the school, but also to promote Battambang as a destination for visitors,” says Khuon Chanreaksmey, Phare director of community outreach and one of the event coordinators. 

“In the years to come, we hope the run can become an annual event for Battambang, strengthening its position as the arts and cultural hub of Cambodia,” he says.

Empowering strides

In an inspiring display of determination and community spirit, Hong Vantheth, a private company employee, is set to take on a commendable challenge as the solo runner in the event. 

He will be tackling the 30km distance solo, marking his first foray into the world of charitable fundraising runs. 

His endeavour is not just a test of physical endurance but also a spirited effort to raise funds for the noble cause of transforming lives through the arts, under the auspices of Phare.

Aiming high, Vantheth has set a fundraising target of $1,000, and he is well on his way, having already collected more than half of his target as of January 8. 

“I would like to thank you all friends and colleagues for continuous contributions and we are halfway there. Let’s make our community better together,” says Vantheth. 

However, as of January 5, Keiko Uehara had set a modest fundraising goal of $90, directed towards supporting the school. Despite her honourable aspirations, it appears that no contributions have been made to her fundraising efforts yet.

Volunteers and sponsors are also welcomed to support the event. Volunteer roles include manning hydration stalls and directing participants, while sponsorship opportunities are available for local businesses and partners. 

This event not only serves as Phare’s celebration of its 30 years journey but also aims to showcase Battambang as an arts and culture travel destination. Each participant will also receive a complimentary ticket to attend the Phare Battambang Circus.

Each athlete is required to fundraise or donate at least $30 to participate, and all proceeds will be directly invested into the educational and social support endeavours of the organisation.

Art transforming lives

Initially only an art school, Phare was founded by individuals who discovered the therapeutic potential of art while in Thai border camps, after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. 

Now, as the group marks its 30th anniversary, the organisation has grown into an internationally recognised arts and education centre, offering a range of visual and performing arts programmes, along with vital social support and community outreach initiatives. 

Celebrating three decades of nurturing artists and revitalising Cambodian culture, the organisation commemorates this journey with events like the river run, epitomising its enduring mission of transforming lives through the arts. 

“As we celebrate the past 30 years, I look forward to what the next 30 years might bring and that all starts with the Sangke River Run,” says Khawaja. 

“Phare has been changing lives through the arts since 1994, but I believe we’re only at the starting line of what’s possible,” he says. 

The NGO is set to host a series of major events in Phnom Penh from March 1-3, as part of its ongoing anniversary celebrations. 

The weekend will kick off with the dance performance “Madison Now” on March 1 and 2, directed and choreographed by Belgian director Michael Laub in collaboration with Cambodian dancer-choreographer Vanthy Khen. 

Additionally, a 30-year fundraising gala is scheduled in the capital on March 2. 

The festivities will culminate on March 3 with a special preview of the upcoming contemporary theatrical production “Cabaret of Dreams”, promising a weekend filled with artistic flair and cultural enrichment.