For a majority of Cambodian children, the month of August is synonymous with the end of exams, the end of the school year at PSE, and, very often, a time to return to work. That is, many children, as a contribution to the family revenue, are forced to return to tedious jobs – where they sometimes work throughout the year after they finish the school day – selling sodas all day under the scorching sun, improvising themselves as tourist guides in the city center, trading trinkets in the streets after rooting through the dumpsites in abominable hygiene conditions, and sometimes much darker trades such as prostitution or drug-dealing.
In 2002, Christian and Marie-France des Pallières came up with the idea of opening a large-scale program to link the two school years, whereby European youths would fly into Cambodia for the month and work with Khmer monitors to show the Khmer children the exact meaning of a holiday… Because isn’t unguarded fun and laughter the very definition of childhood? Their idea was that, in this way, there would be a continuity from one school year to the next, insuring the children would stay out of the streets and return to school after the summer holiday.On a fund-raising tour of France, they met Marisa Caprile, who was so moved by the documentaries about PSE that she immediately volunteered to organise the summer camps. Step by step, and with extreme attention to detail and a whole lot of love, Marisa surrounded herself with a motivated team and set up the first ever summer camp in August 2003. Ever since, the summer camps have been exponentially developing, to the point where the 2014 summer camp welcomed close to 3000 children a day, in 14 camps spread across the country.
The summer camp is exactly what you imagine it to be: a time to play, to create, to learn and to discover a new culture. For most Khmers’, it is their first time meeting a European, and it is also our first chance to gain such a unique insight into these children’s lives. Over the years, the outreach of the summer camps has also expanded, such that this year we are awaiting 183 monitors from France, Spain, Poland, Peru, Ireland, UK, Germany, Italy and Portugal. The summer camps are the result of a huge amount of fund-raising and global organization conducted all throughout the year, which culminate in the wonderful, magical, moments which both children and monitors will cherish and look forward to again and again, until the next August rolls around.