Can you give me an introduction to the role of the social service?
The social service is the heart of PSE: this is the department that chooses the families and children who will benefit from PSE’s help, according to defined criteria. This is our first mission. The second one is to monitor the families and the absent children. The third one is to give advice on schools, and work with the teachers to decide the future of each child, and which professional training he will go into. If for example, a 13-14 year old child comes from a very poor family who absolutely need extra revenue from him, and if he’s failing classes anyway, he will be put on a fast-track for professional training, so that at 16 or 17 he can have a good job. We know he would drop out of school otherwise. We really communicate with all the other departments of PSE to monitor our students.
What are the criteria for a family to enter one of PSE’s programs?
There are four categories to consider: the first one is when a child comes from an extremely poor family. The second one is when a child has only one living parent and many siblings. The third category considers handicapped children, and the fourth one considers children who have lost the 4 rights of a child: right to education, right of expression, right of health and right to be fed.
When the families are selected, how do you choose the appropriate program?
We have over 38 programs and as they are specific to certain needs, and that each program is very expensive, we have a committee that makes this decision. The social assistants make the preliminary case study and then it is presented to the committee who will then come to a conclusion. We have a second inquiry team and an audit team to check for families who lie and for errors in our assessment.
How do you find the families?
A social assistant is someone who has a good heart, who can really sympathise with a family’s suffering and who will work hard to find a solution. That is why the social services are the heart of the association. The first way we find families is when they come directly to us for help. Otherwise, we can find urgent cases through teachers, newspapers, TV, other organisations or through on-site visits. For example if we see a child who works in filthy water picking watergreens from 1 or 2 in the morning, this is absolutely unacceptable, it’s inhuman, the child cannot go to school. Often the child has an alcoholic father, a gambling mother, parents who don’t work and who hit the children so they will go out and bring some money home.
In that case do you speak directly to the child?
Yes, we will speak to him and ask him if he wants to eat something, what help he needs, and finally if he wants to go to school. If the family’s situation is acceptable then he will stay living at home. Otherwise we’ll suggest he lives in the PSE centre. There are cases where the father is violent and alcoholic, he rapes the children, the mother wants them to prostitute themselves… and cases where families psychologically abuse the children by threatening that they won’t eat if they go to school. It’s even harder for girls, it’s awful. In Cambodia there is a very bad tradition whereby girls have to work at home, they cannot continue their studies until the end because their role is to cook and look after small children. To change that mentality, it is our role to give a good example. That is why girls have priority in PSE. Sometimes parents even sell girls to pay off a debt, do you realise?
How can you help the most families?
We do the maximum possible. As social assistants we work 24h a day, we are an emergency number at night, at weekends, on bank holidays. There is also an emergency medical team. The priority is to protect the children. At the Oudong mountain, an hour away from Phnom Penh, there are children who work in stone quarries to earn 2000 or 3000 riels a day, and they give all the money to their parents. They broke their hands, their feet, their fingers… At first we worked just with dumpsite scavengers and now we work with all types of children who don’t have access to school. We also have families in good situations. This happens because some children have graduated now; the organisation is nearly 20 years old! Many have work with good salaries. The situation is changing. There are also increases in the price of land, allowing families to make a profit when they sell their plot. And there are also errors in our selection sometimes, because families lie. That’s why we have second inquiry and audit teams.
What role do the social services play in the summer camps?
It’s the summer camps that play a role in the social services! The summer camps offer a way for us to discover more and more children in miserable situations. It allows us to find children who are not going to school, and to discover the many problems of those who do. When the children are with the monitors, they play, they are happy, they are trustful, they can talk with them, open their hearts. We’ve found many many children this way over the years. Then, the summer camps are also a means of promoting PSE’s name; that’s how many families hear about us: when the children go home they’re happy, they tell lovely stories of their day, they create an aura of trust around PSE. Finally, the most important role of the summer camps is in creating ambassadors for us: you are the ones who will spread the good news, talk about PSE around you, that is gold, it’s absolutely essential!
At the camp the children can smile again, release their sadness. Even the psychological team doesn’t have the capacity to ease out what is hidden inside. It’s the atmosphere of the camp, they meet monitors who make them laugh, who give them love, it moves them, and they wonder: “Why does my brother always hit me? Why does my mother drink and gamble? I’m her daughter! I’m his little sister! I have rights in my family! I have value! Why don’t they give me anything, and you give me everything?” What you do is really sacred. It’s extraordinary. Those who have grown up in violence don’t know right from wrong, true from false. They search for love, and slowly we can help them heal from their trauma. We speak to them, with their tutors, the psychologists, to understand what they are hiding in their hearts, to release it. You are the ones to make them speak, it’s a miracle, you give them the gift of love. Thank you so much.