A catastrophic situation for poor children in Cambodia
In 1995, Cambodia had just emerged from 25 years of war, four of which were spent under the Khmer Rouge dictatorship; the country was devastated. There are no landmarks, no structures. The poor live in great material, physical and moral misery.
And the children are the first victims: their future is limited to garbage dumps or wandering the streets with all its dangers.
Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, the founders
Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, the founders, were young retirees on a humanitarian mission in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, when they discovered the unimaginable: an open-air garbage dump where hundreds of children lived and worked, feeding on waste and risking their lives every day.
"I stood there not knowing what to do, wanting to cry or scream."
Shocked, they immediately decided to "do something" to meet the children's simple request for a meal a day and school.
Setting up appropriate programmes to get the children out of poverty for good
Christian and Marie-France began distributing a few meals on the dump for the starving children but, quickly overwhelmed by the situation, they went to France at the end of 1995 to alert their family and friends who, faced with the emergency, mobilised. On their return to Cambodia, they set up a programme to distribute meals and first aid directly on the dump in a small hut.
The couple then wanted to send the children to school, but the parents were so poor that, in order to get them to accept, they had to give them their children's lost earnings in the form of rice.
Then a small school was built. First it housed 10 children, then 40, then 100... And 250 at the start of the 1997 school year!
Faced with the abuse and violence suffered by the children, a protection programme was set up to protect them from the dangers in their families or in the streets.
A few years later, Christian and Marie-France des Pallières realised that primary and secondary school was not enough and that some young people - even with the Brevet in their pockets - could not find work and returned to the dump. So they created a vocational training programme - which did not exist in the country! - adapted to the needs of the Cambodian job market.
Since then, the association has continued to adapt to the needs of the children and their families.
The situation in Cambodia today
The most vulnerable Cambodian families are moving further and further away from the city centre under the pressure of urban development. They are scattered in areas of great poverty, living in small houses made of tin and wood, not always having electricity or running water, in very degraded and polluted environments. When they can, the parents try to survive by doing "small jobs": construction sites, street sales, picking and selling water bindweed, motorbike taxis, washing other people's clothes, etc. These jobs are poorly paid, ephemeral and without a future.
Today, PSE supports 3,000 of these vulnerable families in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap (Angkor) and Sihanoukville. More than 6,500 children benefit from our programmes each year and 4,500 graduates are already in the workforce. But there are still many children on the side of the road to be saved. Our story continues to be written!
The story of the Pour un Sourire d'Enfant logo
Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, founders of PSE For a Child's Smile, met Chenda in 1995 on the rubbish dump where she lived and worked.
At first, the little girl had a very closed face that changed when she smiled. For Christian and Marie-France, this transformation is the very symbol of PSE and that is why they decided to make it the logo of the association.
Chenda went to school at PSE and even followed a professional training.
Today she is a mother of 3 children and works as a saleswoman next to the new landfill in Phnom Penh, where her husband works as a field supervisor.