How did you first hear of PSE?
I disovered PSE at my children’s school, completely out of chance. Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, at the time, would go on a tour of France every year to fund-raise. In 2002, they were giving a conference in Toulouse at the Saint-Joseph school, and a friend told me about it. When I saw the first movie they had made, where you see children opening old plastic bags to try and find something to eat, there was a sort of explosion in my heart and in my head. It was impossible to let children live that way. I was absolutely revolted by the images I saw. I asked myself a lot of questions, questions that I had thought about for a long time. I could not comprehend – and still can’t – how there could be children forced to eat rubbish, when we throw out so many things that are still good, and buy so many things that are so useless. It was a “boulversement” for me. At the end of the conference, the PSE Toulouse director stood up and explained that Christian and Marie-France needed somebody to help the children in the summertime. They had realised that, for them, the summer was a nightmare – especially for the mothers. The children went home, and no longer received the rice compensation they were given throughout the year in exchange for the parents letting them go to school. So for them, the holidays were miserable. We immediately accepted the challenge, and in August 2003, the very first summer camp began.
Was it difficult to organise the first summer camp?
It was relatively easy, considering how small it was: we had 250 children in the morning and 250 children in the afternoon. But at the time it seemed completely impossible to us. First of all, we knew nothing about Cambodia – I had read a few books on the Khmer Rouges, but I knew next to nothing on local culture. We had no idea where we were headed, and didn’t have the possibility of going on a scouting mission before the camp started. The director of PSE in Toulouse gave me two small pictures: one of the playground and one of the football field, so I would have an idea of the space we had… but that’s it! We were taking a shot in the dark.
How about on a practical level?
The first year we recruited mostly by word-of-mouth, by speaking to our friends’ children, and to our family. I arrived here by the grace of my husband and my children… at one point I panicked: at Christmas, when we were really asked to organise the camp, I immediately wanted to back away. The month of August was coming too quickly, we had nothing prepared, we had no money, I wasn’t trained to do this… I didn’t think I could do it, but my husband, Fernando, and my children, were amazing; they reminded me that for years I had wanted us to go see the world and try and find solutions to all the problems there were. Now that we had the chance, we couldn’t leave it, absolutely not! They told me: we’ll go all together, we’ll help you, we’ll do this as a family. So we arrived, all five of us, with about 19 monitors, and a budget of 12000 euros.
And was it a success?
It was a huge discovery… first of all because the country completely enchanted us: we fell in love with Cambodia and its wonderful people. The Cambodians welcomed us so warmly, and the Khmer monitors we had that year, were mainly students from a university that supported PSE. They had been very moved by PSE’s action, and because the camp was small, we had the chance to exchange with them a lot. We went to visit their families, and we spent entire days with them. We would arrive in places where they had never seen white people. It was extremely moving and enriching for us, and, of course, as I always say, we received so much more than what we gave. We were endlessly more changed and touched by everything we saw and felt and learned, than the little we gave in exchange. All we did was play with 250 children, it wasn’t that complicated…
And this year?
This year is a different challenge, because we’re expecting 185 monitors, thinking that we could welcome over 3200 children a day. Finally, with the summer holiday changes imposed by the government, everything has changed and we will have less children than we thought. We’re hoping that with less children, we will be able to have more interesting activities. That is, activities that are more educational, and try to convey a message, on cleanliness, on respect, on conflict resolution… things that are more constructive than playing games.