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Out of the rubbish and into the classroom

Out of the rubbish and into the classroom

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Mr. Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, founder s of the NGO For a Child’s Smile (PSE) .

Q&A

What is the story behind For a Child’s Smile?
Everything began when my husband and I discovered the rubbish dump of Phnom Penh at the end of 1993. We saw a lot of rag-and-bone children, but did not know what to do. The priority was of course to give them food, but it was impossible to do it alone. So we decided to go back to France with a slide that we showed to people and we started collecting money. In 1996, we came back to Cambodia and we began to provide one meal a day to these children and to send them to school – that’s what they had requested. Then, the NGO evolved step by step: we had no idea what we were about to do. Today, even though we are still involved, we really work as part of a team. Pin Sarapich is the program director and 500 employees work for PSE, most of them being Cambodian.

Who are the children you help and how do you assist them?
The children are really the poorest among the poorest. The social team selects them and checks that we are not creating social injustices. We also try to give the bare minimum to the families. Our priority is to educate the children so that they can help their families afterwards. When a family has three or four children who work, we then ask them to participate financially. It is difficult to change the mentalities, but it enables us to help new children. As time has gone by, we also realised that a certificate of general education was not enough and we studied the careers of the future. A secretary training system was first created. Today, it has become a business school, which has established a partnership with ESSEC Group. In all of our training, we try to always improve the level of the school by training the trainers.

Why did you choose to function with sponsorships?
In the past, the association was funded by the European Union, but this kind of funding is too unpredictable: it can stop every year. So we chose to ask people to sponsor children, though they do not sponsor one child in particular. We just tell them that with one sponsor, that is to say US$48 per month, we can get a child out of dire poverty, giving him or her education. In fact, now that the children do higher studies, we need two sponsors for one child. We now have about 6,400 children to take care of, so sponsorships are not enough, but we complete funding with donations, funds from enterprise foundations, and a little bit of institutional funding.

How do you feel today having created such a huge structure?
I feel loved and it is nice. The children call us Mamie and Papy (Granny and Grandpa in French). We assisted in a lot of weddings and we have found that very pleasant. But above all, we are proud of them. Many of them, who did not have any hope, are now able to help their families and have gained confidence. They want to go further, they learn with enthusiasm. They take evening classes at university. This is the most beautiful reward.

Do you think your NGO will still be here in 10 years?
Though the country is developing, the gap with the richest people is increasing and the poor are becoming poorer. So, as long as there are children who need help, we want PSE to last. Of course, we will continue to evolve according to the necessities. The aim of our training is to fit the needs of society. For the moment, only a few students have created their own enterprise for instance, but in the future, I think we will have to help them more in this way.

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