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Cambodia Circus Offers a Better Life to Young Performers

Many young people dream of joining the circus and performing for large crowds. Such dreams are very much alive in Cambodia, where the skills some youngsters learn can change their lives. Our reporters went to one school for children from needy families. They found the school offers training in many areas, including a few you might not expect.

Juggling, tumbling and acrobatics -- performing difficult and often dangerous movements -- are not skills most schoolchildren learn. But such moves are as much a part of the study program as mathematics and languages at the Phare Ponleu Selpak school, or PPS.

The skills have taken former PPS students to a number of other countries in Asia, Europe and even the United States.

Among them is Pin Phunam, 23-year-old contortionist. She had a troubled childhood. Her father was an alcoholic who sometimes turned violent. At the age of seven, Pin Phunam was collecting bottles and other trash to earn money for food. At 13, she joined the circus program at PPS.

"The school helped me to change my life. That from the poor kid, from the little girl, who [was] working in the town [and] who was a trash picker to become an artist. And with this skill I travelled to the world."

Pin Phunam belongs to a troupe of performers called the Phare Cambodian Circus. Her group was one of several appearing at an international circus festival in Phnom Penh this month.

Huot Dara is chief executive of the circus. He says her performances help to support a school with a special or unique calling.

"To give these unique opportunities to young Cambodians mainly from the street and from very difficult social and economic backgrounds. To take art and culture as a means to express themselves and to have a career, to earn a living, to improve their life and to grow out of poverty."

One of the Phare troupe's shows tells about the suffering in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge rule. Pin Phunam plays the lead in a story about the school's founding. It tells about Cambodian survivors who had found security in the arts while living in refugee camps. There is also a mix of humor and sharp skills.

But Pin Phunam's days as a contortionist will soon end. She wants to dance and study arts and communications.

Her big dream is to enter politics. But her friends say that’s a crazy idea.

"I want people to know girl have a dream and she will go to her dream even if it's hard but keep hope."

Until then, she will keep performing with members of her troupe, combining their skills with just enough near misses to keep crowds on their toes.

I’m Marsha James.

Robert Carmichael and Dan de Carteret reported this story from Phnom Penh. Marsha James adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

acrobatics – n. difficult and dangerous acts done by an artist

contortionistn. a performer who twists his or her body into unusual positions

troupe n. a group of actors, singers who work together

unique adj. very special or unusual

Would you consider going to a school to learn to be in the circus? Do you know someone who is a performer in the circus? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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