A young Frenchman named Pierre-Yves Devroute who works as a communication officer for the association called “France Volontaires” in Cambodia, took time for the occasion of Bastille Day to explain the significant volunteer contribution that is being made by French people to Cambodian people.
Before he came to Cambodia in October, 2010, Devroute worked for a cultural event organiser and a video game company.
“I came to Cambodia because I wanted to do something different and something that makes more sense for me. Cambodia was a choice because I came here before as a tourist and was really touched,” he said.
The first French NGOs since the Khmer Rouge period began to work in the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand in the early 1980s.
According to his own research, with 2011 data from the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia, there are 2,099 NGOs and associations in Cambodia, Devroute said.
“Out of these, 508 are international NGOs, including 54 French. France is the second most represented country by the number of NGOs in the kingdom.”
Devroute said the organisations work in diverse sectors including education, vocational training, culture, media or health.
“French presence in the important sector of development is rooted in the history between the two countries,” Devroute said.
“Cambodia was a French protectorate whose independence was done peacefully. King Norodom Sihanouk, who was on the throne at that time, was not only a perfect French speaker but also a great Francophile and wanted to preserve and even encourage friendly relations between his country and France as seen by the official visit of Charles de Gaulle in Cambodia in 1966,” Devroute said.
“Thus, during the period of the Sangkum Reastr Nyum, Cambodia and France have built strong bonds of cooperation and French language was then widely practiced in the kingdom. These friendship links keep going well until today,” he said.
Devroute pointed to French NGOs including PSE, Pour un Sourire d’Enfant which has been recognised internationally, along with AADAC, the Association d’Aide au Dévelopement de l’Audiovisuel au Cambodge, which is the management arm of the Bophana center, along with GERES, the Groupement Energie Renouvelable et Solidarité which has provided improved cooking stoves to Khmer people across Cambodia.
Devroute says many Cambodian NGOs have strong ties with France including the blindness and deafness NGO Krousar Thmey, the Foundation for Children which was previously created by a young Frenchman who came to work in the refugee camps in Thailand, Benoit Duchateau-Arminjon.
“Cultural NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak also receives a lot of support from France as evidenced by the tour currently achieved by one of the circus troupes of the association,” he said.
In 2012, of 75 NGOs interviewed during a study made by “France Volontaires”, 68 received 1,436 volunteers including 545 French volunteers, Devroute said.
“Some come for a few weeks and others could commit for a year or more. In the case of Service Civique and people under a contract of Volontariat de Solidarité Internationale (VSI), two statutes were created in France to fulfill missions of general interest.
“The number of French volunteers who are committed to long-term missions with a minimum of one year significantly increased in recent years (+ 31.5 per cent VSI between 2011 and 2013). These long-term mission volunteers, about 100 now, are employed in French NGOs as well as local NGOs which had no specific link with France before hosting the volunteer,” Devroute said.
“For example, CRDT (Cambodian Rural Development Team) is an association of Kratie where a French volunteer is working for a year now. Other non-French international NGOs also work with French volunteers, such as Skateistan – the NGO created in Afghanistan which opened an office in Cambodia in early 2013.
Short term volunteers often support the Association Enfants d’Asie – ASPECA, which runs several orphanages in Cambodia and allows 20 young French people to have a first experience in development aid while being helpful for the children supported by the association, Devroute said.
His own association “France Volontaires” was created in January 2010 by the government and the voluntary sector in France. To learn more about French volunteerism in Cambodia (in French) readers may visit the websites: http://www.observatoire-volontariat.org/Les-dynamiques-des-engagements,130; www.evfv.org/cambodge and http://www.ambafrance-kh.org/-ONG-.