In 1994, Christian and Marie-France des Pallières came face to face with the young children working on the Phnom Penh dumpsite in Steung Meanchey. On the spot, they decided to help them by providing them with one meal a day. When they had raised enough funds to buy a plot of land, it is at Paillote 1, right next to the dumpsite, that they built their first centre for distributing meals. At the time, of course, they had no idea what expansion PSE would undergo. Today, 20 years later, Paillote 1 is a day centre for PSE and one of the locations of the summer camps. Despite the dumpsite being closed since 2009, there is still extreme poverty in the neighbourhood and some children still root for rubbish they might be able to recycle. The paillote is in sharp contrast to its surroundings, nestled between lovely green trees and painted with all the colours of the rainbow, proudly displaying its new library, built this year. It is no doubt an inspiration for everyone to be here, where everything began for PSE, in this safe haven in the heart of the chaos of the dumpsite.
Marga agrees that despite the dumpsite closing there are still many families that live on the debris and work collecting the trash they find. “We can’t know for sure if some of the children who come to the camp also work at the dumpsite. One thing is certain: in this neighbourhood the families are very poor, and before eating and during the siesta, we go walk around the paillote to see if some children would like to come and play and have a bite to eat. One day I had the misfortune of seeing a tiny little boy looking for food in a bin. We brought him to the paillote and looked after him for a while.”
For Almudena, this is her second year as a monitor and her first time in paillote 1. She feels like she has a lot more to offer this year and that she can really appreciate each moment. “In your first year, you’re a lot less confident and maybe don’t take as many risks. You get tired very quickly and worry about unimportant details. Last year I was exhausted at the end of each day. This year I feel a lot more prepared, I know what to expect and how to behave with the children. What’s more, I know that I’m really going to get close to them and that I’ll have to leave them at the end of the month. There is no doubt that I see things more clearly now.”