Lauren Shaw, Professor, Emerson College, Visual and Media Arts. (Click here for Bio)
I have known Phounam Pin since 2010, and have watched her become the determined and remarkable young woman she is today. She became a very successful circus artist against extreme poverty, hardships and challenges. I directed and produced the documentary Angkor’s Children about he power of art to heal a nation after genocide, told through the voices of three young women. Phounam is one of those young women. Her charisma extends beyond the performer on the stage, and her magnetism, tenacity, and ambition is apparent from the moment you meet her. Her dream is to complete a college education in the United States so that she can use her education toward becoming a leader in her country when she returns to Cambodia. I know that investing in Phounam’s future is contributing to the future of young Cambodians who need the leadership of someone like Phounam.
On a very hot muggy evening in February 2010 with my translator Racksmey at my side, I sat with Phounam on the earthen floor of her house in her village in Battambang. We shared a dinner of rice, fish and veggies as I recall, a little plastic fan whirring away in an attempt to cool us off. She had a radiant smile and a spirit that transcended our language impasse. Yes, she had been a collector of trash, specifically recyclables to bring home a few dollars for the family before she went off to the circus school, Phare Ponleu Selpak. There she learned to be an acrobat,and as she now states in perfect English a ” circus artist”.
I consider my meeting Phounam to be one of the most fortunate and enriching experiences of my life. She now is fulfilling her dream to live in the United States and to study so she can go back to her homeland, educated and be a leader, a teacher, an ambassador, giving back to her “Homeland”.
If we had more women like Phounam in the world, it would be a better place to live. Please support her ambition, her tenacity and help her be the educated woman she seeks to become.
Dara Huot, CEO, Phare, the Cambodian Circus (Click here for bio)
Kunthary de Gaiffier
I met Phounam in October 2014 at a fundraising held at the Cambodian Embassy in Washington, DC. It was her first visit to the US, touring with premiere screenings of the Angkor’s Children, a documentary film directed by Lauren Shaw in which she was one of three featured stars. Connecting with her was immediate thanks to her magnetism and disarmingly charming smile. She shared that the film was about her life as a circus artist with Phare. Then learning that I was planning to visit Cambodia in December 2014 with my family, Phounam made me promise to go and see Phare’s New Year performance in Siem Reap and the Sokha Show based on a true story of a survivor of the Cambodian genocide. Both truly fantastic, moving shows and Phounam’s performance was as breathtaking and inspiring as her off stage character.
As we discussed her circus arts, Phounam also shared with me her fondest dream: to complete a college education in the United States. She yearned for an American education in order to prepare her to serve her community and combat poverty upon her return to her beloved homeland. Her conviction and dedication were such that she enrolled in English classes while continuing to work as a circus artist and starting an English and gymnastics after-school activity for grade school youth living in a neighboring compound of makeshift dwellings. In the ensuing months, I came to appreciate Phounam’s tenacity in pursuing her dream despite the heavy demands of a daily circus performance schedule and her almost boundless generosity in meeting the basic needs of her family. Her willingness to share the fruits of her education and work led my husband and I to decide to help her financiaIly with her English classes and to offer her online tutoring with her homework assignments. Through these contacts in Cambodia and later while she studied English in Madison, Wisconsin we were able to witness the progress she was making by leaps and bounds.
Recently, I became her official sponsor for her program of studies in the US. Given the trauma in her background, my husband and I are committed to providing her a safe, loving and nurturing environment for her studies. We very much hope you will actively join us and her numerous admirers and friends in offering Phounam a transformative experience through your generous financial support. With our concerted efforts, I am confident that Phounam will fulfill her dream and make us proud of her achievements. Thank you for helping her on the path to become an educated woman and a future leader in Cambodia!
Edmond Degaiffier, Psychotherapist, Washington DC. (Click here for bio)
A phoenix arising out of the ashes of Cambodia’s cultural holocaust: a beacon witnessing the power of social justice and the arts in conquering poverty and trauma. These are bylines that I, as a psychotherapist who has treated trauma victims, believe best characterize Phounam’s transformative experience from a marginalized, socially disengaged “trash picker” into an admired, star circus artist and role model for Cambodia’s youth.
Whether your first glimpse of Phounam is in performance as a beautiful fairy floating in the dark Big Top sky or an awakening damsel rolling across the stage at the crack of dawn, or whether it is a bundle of energy and smiles huddled with members of her audience or eagerly teaching youths of her neighborhood the basics of English or gymnastics, the beholder becomes rapidly swept away by a sense of art pursued to the cutting edge of perfection. This sense is accompanied by a certainty of being in the presence of a very human person reaching out to others, giving back to others, – and especially to the most vulnerable children – from the bounty the gifts she has been blessed to receive and cultivate.
But better yet, read Phounam’s story in her own words, share in vision of her own dreams for a new future as she approaches the twilight of her career as a Circus star. Like so many of us who have come to know her, you will be left with the comforting and exhilarating feeling of being in the presence of a future leader of Cambodia, of a young person who also embodies the hope of Cambodia’s rising generation for a renaissance of the arts and culture in the context of justice and economic well-being for all.
So please reach deep into your hearts and souls, and into your pockets too, and donate to Phounam’s next learning adventure: Going to college in the US. You will not regret your action. I know I won’t.
Bernice Schneider, Editor: Angkor’s Children. (Click here for bio)
I had the good fortune to be introduced to Phounam Pin, first, in 2013 through my work as the editor of the film Angkor’s Children, and then in person in 2014 when she traveled to Boston.
As the editor of Angkor’s Children, I had the luxury of pouring over the many hours of footage of Phounam that had been shot during the making of the film. I was immediately struck by her passion, kindness and dedication both to her family, colleagues, and to her art. Phounam was impressive even before I met her.
As an artist she is truly inspiring, and her clear-eyed ambition to improve her own circumstances and those of her family despite incredible personal and financial hardships often left me in tears in the edit room. Despite facing myriad difficulties and overwhelming challenges, she has managed always to look ahead and to focus on her goals. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Phounam while she was in Boston, and she is even more impressive and lovelier than I could have imagined.
I thoroughly support her dream to be educated in America and to become an even stronger role model for young men and women in Cambodia and around the world.
Raza Sughra, MD, FACR. Associate Professor of Radiology, Harvard Medical School. (Click here for Bio)
.Long before Lauren Shaw’s film Angkor’s Children screened, I heard both Lauren and Paul Feinberg raving about a phenomenal young circus artist named Phounam whom they had met in Battambang. She was energetic, committed, resilient and gifted! I was fortunate enough to meet Phounam when she came to Boston for the premier of Angkor’s Children, and saw for myself the power packed within this petite and charming woman, whose life experiences had matured her beyond her years.
A natural born leader, Phounam is keen to get an excellent education in the US to prepare her for important work she plans to do in her own community and possibly on a larger scale back in Cambodia. There is no doubt in my mind that she will pursue her education with the determination and hard work that has defined her life. I believe she will succeed in her journey and am excited to help her realize her dreams. I hope you too will be inspired to lend a hand!