"Twenty years ago, the landfill was a terrible place. The heat, the odor and the fear! At any moment, the dump trucks could crush you. We started out with a bag right there next to piles of trash. We tried to find plastic items and small items that we tried to sell during our day," recalls Leakhéna. Today, the landfill has been closed down and moved to a location outside Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, and Leakhéna's life has radically changed.
"We did not know it was a hard life there at the landfill... It's more painful now since I have realised that we, the child ragpickers, were completely removed from mainstream society" she explains, moved.
Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, founders of PSE, spot the little girl, lively and playful, who tells them in Khmer all kind of things that they don't understand. So Leakhéna learned French on her own! "I listened to what Papy and Mamie said, retaining the words and comparing them to other sentences," she recalls. In less than a few months, she understands and speaks French! So at only 10 years old, Leakhéna follows Christian everywhere: she is his interpreter and assistant nurse.
Then when she is only 11 years old, she creates what will bevome the "Children's Solidarity" programme: the students who board at the school invite very poor children who are not yet in PSE programmes to offer them meals, let them take a shower and give them the chance to experience some moments of fun and joy. She also puts in place an artisan programme for women in precarious situations.
After completing her schooling at PSE, Leakhéna goes through a management training programme then joins the social services team at the association. Quite soon, she assumes the head of a team of 30 social assistants.
Today, Leakhéna is General Assistant Director of PSE, in charge of programmes.