For nearly 25 years, Phare Ponleu Selpak has been using the arts to transform the lives of children in Battambang, Cambodia.

Originally, we helped refugee children cope with trauma through drawing and arts education. Over the years, we added more arts, including music, dance, and circus. Now, we’re part of the Asian Social Circus Association, a network that spans the globe of organizations using circus to empower youth. And today we celebrate all these achievements on Social Circus Day!

Learn about the children impacted through the power of social circus classes at Phare Ponleu Selpak

What Is Social Circus Anyway?

Social circus is a form of intervention that uses circus to empower at-risk youth. Beyond just teaching circus skills, social circus uses the subtle benefits of circus to transform lives. In fact, the primary goal of social circus is not to teach circus skills and create circus performers, but something more.

According to Cirque du Soleil, the primary goal of social circus is “to assist with participants’ personal and social development by nurturing their self-esteem and trust in others, as well as by helping them to acquire social skills, become active citizens, express their creativity, and realize their potential.”

Through social circus, children and teens can find their place in society, and rejoin their community as empowered figures. Through circus training, estranged children learn how to trust themselves and their peers. This is undoubtedly important within circus, but it also gives them strength to face everyday challenges.

Social Circus at Phare Ponleu Selpak

The circus program at Phare Ponleu Selpak has been a social circus program since the beginning.

Our circus program founder, KHUON Det, created the circus program in 1998 to give local children an active way to express themselves and cope with trauma and other difficulties.

What is social circus?

According to KHUON Chanreaksmey, the Deputy Director of  Phare Performing Arts School, social circus has always been integral to our circus program. As Phare understands it, social circus “helps the community’s children to stay off the streets, to find confidence for future careers, to bring energy to their lives, and to help them build a spirit of teamwork.”

In 2013, Phare Ponleu Selpak became one of the founding partners of the Asian Social Circus Association. ASCA works to promote child rights and protection throughout Asia, as well as promoting social circus as a tool for empowerment of children.

The Impact of Social Circus at Phare Ponleu Selpak

Over the nearly 20 years since we founded our social circus program here in Battambang, we have seen countless children come through our doors.

Some went on to become professional circus artists, performing in Siem Reap, in France, and around the world. Others came only to learn to trust, to learn to love themselves and their peers. Still more are now our teachers and administrators, continuing the circus tradition for the next generation.

A circus class held in Battambang, Cambodia for at-risk children and youth

To discover the impact of social circus, it is best to consider the stories of the children and young adults who are experiencing it.

Consider our circus student Sreyleak, who today performs under our big top as part of the show Tchamleak. Our circus program has given her a passion for her life, and she dreams of traveling to far off places.

Or consider the cast of our circus show Chills, who today have toured France not once, but two times! Without social circus, these young men and women would never have learned to trust each other and build the bonds of friendship that so obviously connect them today.

Phare Ponleu Selpak is incredibly proud of all of our students, those who pursue professional careers in circus, and those who only come for the social benefits. We’re a huge believer in the power of social circus to transform lives and heal society. Happy Social Circus Day!


Do you believe in the power of social circus? A donation to Phare Ponleu Selpak allows us to continue to spread the love of social circus to young Cambodians across Battambang.