The campus of Phare Ponleu Selpak is home to volunteers from Cambodia and all around the world. This week, we’re proud to interview Eva Xiste who is from France but doing her university studies in London.
During her time at Phare, Eva helped change lives through the arts across a few different subject areas. I spent good times with Eva, around the Visual and Applied Arts School (VAAS) and with the students with whom she was very close. Eva is always smiling, dancing, and spreading good vibes all around, and the Phare team misses her energy on campus.
Before she left, Eva gave me an interview about her volunteering experience at Phare Ponleu Selpak. This is what she had to say.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Hello, I’m Eva Xiste. I’m French, but I live in London and study Product and Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins – a university focused on art, design, fashion, architecture, graphic design, materials innovation, design business, etc.
Did you come as a volunteer on your own or through an organization?
It was a little challenging for me to come to Phare Ponleu Selpak because of my unique circumstances. Right now, I’m between my second and third years of a Bachelor’s in Product and Industrial Design. I decided to take a “sandwich” year that requires me to do from one to five internships and at the end, I can receive a Diploma in Professional Studies (DPS).
I started with a 7-month-long internship in a furniture startup in Lausanne, Switzerland, then went to Givenchy – LVMH fragrance brands in Paris as a packaging designer for five months and ended up completing my sandwich year working at Phare for two months.
Because I had already gone over the required number of days of internship to complete the DPS, my school didn’t approve my internship at first, but once they saw the project and learned more about Phare and its mission, my school approved. So my work at Phare was both as a volunteer and an intern thanks to my school.
I’m very grateful to both my previous employers as I got to save up to go all the way to Cambodia, and to my university that provided me with bursaries like Turing Scheme and Erasmus. This support and extra funding helped tremendously into working well and enjoying all three countries to the utmost.
What made you want to volunteer at Phare? What stood out about it?
My design teacher during high school, Hélène Kling, told me about Phare Ponleu Selpak and her project of taking her new students to the arts school. After some research of Phare online, I didn’t hesitate to contact them to learn more about what they needed in a volunteer and see if my experiences could provide any help.
I honestly fell in love with Phare. To be creative is a gift and an asset. Art has no boundaries of language and is a beautiful way to express yourself and collaborate with others. I wanted to experience this in Asia and from a teacher’s perspective, challenging myself in new cultures, different teaching methods, and with talented students. I also lived the first three years of my life in Singapore, and I wanted to see if Southeast Asia was a place I wanted to go live again.
With both the Visual and Applied Arts School (VAAS) and the Performing Arts School (PAS), smaller classes, and a closer community, it seemed like the perfect fit for me. I also wanted to experience working in an NGO.
What was your role at Phare?
At Phare, I worked both on the Communications Team and at the Visual and Applied Arts School (VAAS).
As a graphic design volunteer, I was making visuals for printing and publishing outcomes, and developing products for the campus boutique with a team of interns. At the VAAS, I was a Teacher Assistant with Teacher Borin, for the graphic design students, helping them during their InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator class.
I also taught a product design class, created a portfolio workshop, and made an “online resources” hub accessible to all students with free websites to download visual arts assets from.
The students are so talented, the teachers are patient, and the team is amazing to work with. The only challenge was to communicate as I don’t speak Khmer and even if they speak great in English, it wasn’t always easy to talk and explain things.
What did you like most about volunteering at Phare?
By far the people. Working with the Communications Team and with the students was the highlight of my stay. Everyone is so genuine, kind, and even if the language barrier is not always easy, we always had a great time together and worked well.
The teachers I worked with were the best. The students want to learn and the only thing standing between them and success is the lack of quality computers.
The campus is also so beautiful and full of art, life, history, and joy. It’s a big trigger to be creative and to collaborate.
In your opinion, what makes Phare special or unique?
Phare is a hub of creativity, joy, kindness, and fun. There is so much talent and energy in this school. It felt like home. I grew up in South Africa and the school I went to – Brescia House School – was very similar, with big green open spaces, classes where you can speak freely, students always helping each other, etc. There was always something happening.
What advice would you give to someone else who is thinking about volunteering at Phare Ponleu Selpak?
Go for it! I think it’s less about adapting to Phare, but rather creating your own pace and seeing how you can help in any way. Stay true to who you are, embrace the Cambodia lifestyle, and create the missions you want to do.
Want to help change lives through the arts? Join Phare Ponleu Selpak as a volunteer and use your skills and expertise in transforming the lives of children and youth in Battambang, Cambodia.