A vocational training at our Visual and Applied Arts School (VAAS) gives Cambodian youth an education in animation, graphic design, or fine art. But what kind of impact does this have on their lives? To find out, we decided to sit down with one of our recent graduates, Sin Thoukna, who has an incredible story to tell.
Though still a young man, only 24 years old, Thoukna has been able to make huge changes in his life and achieve wonderful things.
From Humble Beginnings
Born in a small village outside of Battambang, Thoukna was one of 9 children. His parents struggled to support their family, but they loved their children nonetheless. At 17 years old, Thoukna graduated from high school and began to think about his future.
Young high school educated Cambodians have a difficult time ahead of them. Without a Bachelor’s degree, it is difficult to find jobs with decent salaries. But for the average Cambodian, a university education is too expensive. This proved true for Thoukna, and he soon realized that his parents couldn’t support him any longer. He left his home and moved into a pagoda, a religious place that shelters those who have nowhere else to go.
At 20 years old, Thoukna was living in a pagoda, struggling to find his way in life. Then, he discovered Phare Ponleu Selpak. Even as a small child he had loved drawing pictures. His brother knew of this passion for art, so he told him about an art school in Battambang. Before this, Thoukna had never heard of Phare.
Thoukna still vividly remembers his first day on our campus.
“I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know where Phare was, or what to expect. When I first arrived, I spoke to teacher Bandol (one of the founders of PPSA), and he showed me into the exhibition hall, full of students’ artwork. When I saw that, I felt so excited, and it also felt familiar. It felt like home.”
Enrolling in Phare Animation Training
For the first year at Phare, Thoukna took drawing classes and explored his passion. But the next year, in 2013, Phare announced its vocational training program, and Thoukna was able to take the entrance exam. He passed, and entered into the three-year program.
“I felt very nervous. I thought I wasn’t good enough, and that I didn’t have enough skill.”
But this feeling didn’t last long. During the first year of the program, Thoukna and his classmates studied all three subjects: graphic design, fine art, and animation. In year two, they picked their focus. Thoukna chose animation.
His confidence truly began to grow after year two:
“After year 2, I had a two-month internship in Phnom Penh. During this internship I really became confident in my skills.”
Back at Phare, Thoukna dove into his third and final year of the vocational training. During year three, the students take on their own personal projects, building their own creations from the ground up. For Thoukna, this meant making his own animation film.
“It was very hard at first, because I had to do everything by myself. Story board, characters, direction, production, everything. I don’t think I slept at all.”
All that hard work paid off, and in July of 2016, Thoukna debuted his short film: Chewing Gum. Chewing Gum is a charming animation that playfully calls out Cambodia’s problem of pollution.
“I wanted to deal with the issue of trash in Cambodia. How it starts with one small thing but can grow to have a huge impact on the environment.”
A few months later, in September of 2016, Thoukna took his animation down to a film festival in Phnom Penh, where he won an award for the “Best Background”.
“Nowadays,” Thoukna explains shyly, “everyone knows me for that film. Where ever I go, here in Phare, down in Phnom Penh, people see me and they called me ‘Chewing Gum.’”
Today, Thoukna works as an animator for the newly opened Phare Creative Studios. He works on character design, movement, layout, and background, and has worked with clients like the APSARA authority in Siem Reap.
A lot can happen to a young Cambodian who follows their love of drawing through the front gates of Phare Ponleu Selpak. And although Thoukna has already achieved so much, he still has more goals and bigger dreams.
“This year, I want to start work on my second animation. And in the future, I hope to open my own studio, to make Cambodia a center for Animation.”