Tracing Pour un Sourire d’Enfant’s 25 Years Work with Dumpsite Children in Phnom Penh

"From One Day To Another 25 Years of Action In Cambodia", a two-day photo exhibition beginning Sept 2, traces the incredible story of NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) in the capital city
Pour un Sourire d’Enfant’s 25 years work in pictures
Pour un Sourire d’Enfant’s 25 years work in pictures

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Hundreds of archived documents, photos and testimonies tell the story of the beginnings of NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) to understand its actions over the last three decades up to the development of a “machine to destroy misery”.

All of this is exhibited in a two-day exhibition, which is a tribute to the work of Christian des Pallières, co-founder of PSE, who captured the toughest moments of life with his camera, stressing that it had to be shown.

PSE communications officer Prak Khun told Kiripost that the exhibition displays three decades of work aimed at remembering, reflecting and showing the pursuit of a major mission.

“The photo exhibition retraces the history and first steps of the NGO showcased through five walls representing five main moments of PSE. Each wall highlights a period from the moment when our founders discovered the Phnom Penh dumpsite, their first actions to help the children then till today. We have 6,500 students enrolled in our programmes,” she said.

She breaks down the exhibition by explaining the theme behind each wall.

Wall 1 : Discovering The Dumpsite

In 1995, everything was destroyed in Cambodia after the genocide and the years of war. The poor lived in extreme moral, physical and material decline. Children were the main victims. Their future was limited to scavenging the rubbish landfills or wandering the streets amid dangerous situations.

Wall 2 : Providing Basic Needs

It all started with a simple question, ‘What do you need?’. The children replied, “One meal a day and going to school”. It didn’t seem like much but it meant a lot to them. A child growing up on a dumpsite or on the streets suffers from malnutrition and physical injuries. The first imperative was to feed and care for them. Founders Christian and Marie-France des Pallières started to distribute meals at the dumpsite but were soon overwhelmed by the work. They returned to France at the end of 1995 to alert family and friends who understood the urgent condition while mobilising help. When they returned to Cambodia in the spring of 1996, they set up a meal distribution programme and provided first aid in a small hut at the landfill.

Wall 3 : Building The Foundations

In 1997, they bought their first piece of land not far from the dumpsite, and 250 children started their first school year. Over the years, thousands of young scavengers were rescued. Education, nutrition and medical care were the basic needs that were addressed, but this was not enough to ensure the well-being of a child. Day by day, more adoption programmes were created in order to lift the children out of poverty. The parents were so poor that in order for them to agree to send their child to school, they would receive a certain quantity of rice to compensate for the loss of money that he/she would have otherwise brought home. In addition, a protection programme was set up to protect children from abuse and violence within their family or on the streets.

Wall 4 : ‘Developing our Action’

The situation of families has changed since 1995 but poverty remains a huge issue in Cambodia. The dumpsite closed in 2009 and moved out of the city, making it more complicated to work there. Most of the beneficiaries are now living on the outskirts of Phnom Penh due to the rapid urban development. They have gathered into communities where living conditions are extremely difficult. Parents and children try to survive by taking on precarious jobs.

Wall 5 : Preparing The Future

A few years after the creation of the educational programs, Christian and Marie France realised that elementary and middle schools were not sufficient, and that many teenagers could not find jobs by only using their Certificate of General Education or equivalent. To get out of poverty, youngsters must be able to access the professional world, which means studying a vocational training of good quality. In 2002, a programme was created, the first in the country.

Today, the PSE Institute provides 18 courses in five schools, consisting of hospitality and tourism, business, mechanics, construction and cinema. “Our training is adapted to the market needs and recognised by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training.”

Khun said thousands of photos were found in Marie-France’s office, some of which document the very beginning of PSE’s action on the dumpsite while others are more recent.

“There has been a valuable source of information to document our activity over the years and also a strong need to remember the past. These images make us reflect on the progress accomplished since 1995, and its evolution in the last three decades. We have come a long way and we are still paving the way for the future.”

The impact of PSE photo exhibition

The NGO is trying to evoke past memories with old pictures of Phnom Penh and the former dumpsite at Stung Meanchey. Most of the photographs have never been released to the public.

“We hope to raise awareness to a larger community in Cambodia, including photography lovers. We recently collaborated with Vutheara Kham and Shunsuke Miyatake, two famous and very talented photographers that are supporting our NGO,” Khun shared.

Noting that PSE’s 25 years of photo exhibition contributes to the preservation and promotion of photographic art, Khun believed that photographs could be witnesses of the present and the past.

She said they are proud to be able to contribute to documentation of Cambodian history by educating people.

“We truly believe that children are the future of the country, we continue to keep tracking the progress through photography,” she added.

Marie-France’s reaction

''What a great moment of emotion when I saw this beautiful exhibition created by the PSE Communication team! Not long ago, I gave them all my photos since the inception of PSE. On the occasion of my 80th birthday celebration, I have had the pleasure of witnessing this exhibition, PSE - From one day to another, 25 years of action in Cambodia,” co-founder Marie-France was quoted as saying.

“I’m not the only one to be touched,” Marie-France said, adding that the former students of PSE were also delighted to show photos of themselves as children to their kin.

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