Phare Ponleu Selpak has had the pleasure to co-organize a day of circus workshops to entertain and bring joy to the children of the « Metta Karuna » Center, a like-minded organization of Battambang Province which provides education and care to young people coming from dire family circumstances including severe poverty and abandonment. This foster home is one of the many humanitarian activities locally chaperoned by the Catholic Church under the mentorship of Bishop Kike Figaredo.
Our teams arrived early in the rural village of Tahen located 13 km from the city of Battambang, to prepare a whole day of group activities including hoola hoop and juggling and share all their secret tricks with the children and youth hosted in the center. There, 103 students aged between 5 and 22 years old find a home where they can focus on education and personal growth, with activities such as tennis, football, English classes and traditional Khmer dances.
We met Celia, a Spanish physiotherapist who has been volunteering in the Apostolic Prefecture since January 2019. She has notably been working for their « SAM » project, enhancing the quality of life of people with intellectual and physical disabilities, and felt quickly committed to the care of the center’s little protégés.
It became evident how Phare’s and Metta Karuna’s missions are aligned as Celia explained how art is important for their development: “Even though our traditional dance classes are not meant to lead to a professional level, they happen to have a much higher value: they are an opportunity for these kids to identify with their own culture and take root in their new life. They have had to face very complicated situations from a very young age, and the high technicality of Khmer dances, that require them to maintain a high degree of concentration and have great control over the movements of the whole body, is helping them to become strong and resilient. They see it as a challenge and are eager to train every day, so they can become the lead dancers of the performances.” Art has a powerful way of connecting. Celia’s team noticed how the children enjoyed and resonated with the stories told through the circus shows, that Phare invited them to, and were always expecting one more visit.
For the last 15 years, the Apostolic prefecture has been organizing a 4 weeks summer camp in August thanks to volunteers and fundraising efforts, but due to the COVID-19 situation, it is the first year they couldn’t run this activity. On March 23, a note from the Ministry of Social Affairs ordered to close the Metta-Karuna Center and its staff had to search among acquaintances, friends and relatives to find a home for each student of the center. After months trying to cope with this disruptive news, “Bishop Kike Figaredo expressed his desire to create a small event of inclusion for children with and without disabilities to compensate for the usual summer camp, and since Phare had let us know their willingness to start a collaboration we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to implement it!” said the volunteer.
Our young circus artists had great fun while teaching their skills to small socially distanced groups split from 67 children in total (among which 27 with disabilities). Despite the safety measures, a lot of enthusiasm was shared between the teachers and trainees allowing them to discover new passions, maybe even vocations!
These activities have been supported by the volunteers and grant from the Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation (NOREC).