KHUON Det, Knight of Arts and Literature

KHUON Det, Knight of Arts and Literature
KHUON Det, Knight of Arts and Literature

KHUON Det, one of the founders of Phare Ponleu Selpak, and Director of the NGO’s Performing Arts School, received the prestigious title of “Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature” on November the 15th, 2017, awarded by the French Ministry of Culture.

This order was created by André Malraux in 1957 and is one of the four most prestigious French recognitions to date. It awards people who have made outstanding contributions to the development and brightness of arts and literature in France and around the world.

The gala ceremony of KHUON Det’s recognition took place at the French Embassy of Cambodia, and was chaired by Mrs. Eva Nguyen Binh, the Ambassador of France in Cambodia. One of the distinguished guests was Mrs. Geneviève Von Rossum, Special Representative for Bioethics and Corporate Social Responsibility. Both of them warmly thank Mr. Khuon Det for his involvement for the revival of arts in Cambodia and his tireless work to improve the lives of the young people and the whole Cambodian community.

“This achievement is not only mine but also the achievement of the entire Phare family and the community we have been serving, especially Phare Ponleu Selpak’s founders that have worked hard in rejuvenating the arts and culture for social change and improving lives! The community we serve with Arts education has always been the motivating factor behind our achievement. Without them, Phare would not exist and my pursuit to use Arts and Culture for social change would not happen.”

The founders and their art teacher Veronique Decrop in site 2
The founders and their art teacher Veronique Decrop in Site 2 refugee camp

Khuon Det literally devoted his whole life to this purpose with the other founders of Phare Ponleu Selpak. As the civil war raged during and after the Khmers Rouge regime, Det lived in Site 2, a vast refugee camp on the border of Thailand from a young age until he was 22 years old. There, 9 young people who would later create PPS met a French art teacher, Veronique Decrop, who helped them overcome the trauma of war while introducing them to arts. This practice of art had an outstanding effect on the 9 founders and gave rise to a deeper calling for the arts and education. In 1994, they all left the refugee camp and decided to create Phare Ponleu Selpak in order to help young people express their feelings and overcome their traumas by using art and to promote the revival of arts and culture in Cambodia after decades of war. Phare Ponleu Selpak – The Brightness of the Arts – was born.

“Arts changed my life and helped me believe in a brighter future. Every child deserves that”, said Det.

However, for Det, drawing classes were not enough and after practicing martial arts and gymnastic, he decided to create the circus school. His life and the one of the other founders of Phare Ponleu Selpak is illustrated in Sokha, a splendid and meaningful show that is currently performed at the big top at Phare, the Cambodian Circus in Siem Reap.  This is one of the social enterprises created in 2013 to bring more sustainability to the NGO.

Sokha, or the story of the founders

Today, Phare Ponleu Selpak is one of the main Cambodian NGOs in the field of art and education within Cambodia. It offers free, quality training programs in circus, theatre, dance, music, visual and applied arts (graphic design and animation) and it is home to Phare Battambang Circus. Students perform a variety of shows several times a week under a Big Top that can host an audience of up to 280 people. The organization also includes a kindergarten, a library, a Child Development Centre and a Social Support program that works with the surrounding community.

“I am deeply honoured that the French government has bestowed on me the medal of the order of knight of arts and literature to acknowledge my contribution to the arts, culture and social work for the past years… With the support of the other founders, the Phare family and the communities besides me, I will put all my energy in this journey for social change, arts and culture!”. Knightly.