Lifted from poverty by a Cambodian Cirque du Soleil, acrobats support 1,200 students through nightly shows

The performers in Phare, The Cambodian Circus, have broken the cycle of poverty, but the help they give others to do the same is at risk with its shows on hold.

With a madcap show featuring uproarious acrobatics accompanied by raucous music, Phare could be described as Cambodia’s answer to Cirque du Soleil, and not long ago it was playing to packed houses in the town of Siem Reap night after night.

All the performers have a story to tell. Drawn from among the country’s beggars, orphans, victims of human trafficking, and drug addicts, they have developed skills and found new purpose in life. Phare has also been the prime source of funding for 1,200 students at an arts school – Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) – in the city of Battambang.

Early this year, however, the coronavirus pandemic struck and the Cambodian government put travel restrictions in place. As tourist arrivals slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether, the audiences stopped coming, and Phare found itself teetering.

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