Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Out of the rubbish and into the classroom

Out of the rubbish and into the classroom

Out of the rubbish and into the classroom

110128_ngo16b

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.

MOST VIEWED

  • Some jobs off limits to foreigners from August

    Beginning from the second week of August, foreigners will be banned from driving taxis and tuk-tuks, as well as being motorcycle delivery drivers, street food vendors, hairdressers and product distributors among other lower-income jobs. Some white-collar jobs such as the head of human resources will

  • Chinese-owned shops are on the rise in central Phnom Penh

    Informal businesses owned by Chinese nationals are on the rise in central Phnom Penh, especially in Tonle Bassac commune, surrounding Koh Pich. Such businesses have sprung up notably in Central Market, Orussey Market, Sovanna Shopping Mall, Rattana Plaza, as well as Kakab commune across from

  • Sihanoukville authorities find 83 rubbish-packed containers

    Eighty-three containers packed with rubbish were broken open at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port by joint authorities on Tuesday. The origin of the containers has yet to be ascertained, Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. Pheaktra, who is also the ministry’s secretary of state,

  • ‘Cambodia Democracy Act’ passed by US House

    The US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on Monday, passed the “HR 526 Cambodia Democracy Act”, also known as the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019. If signed off by th US president, the bill would allow two major sets of action to be taken against high-ranking