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Into the Wild // Paillote 3

Paillote 3 is the most remote camp in the vicinity of Phnom Penh; it is situated across the river, amid luxurious vegetation. This year the camp takes place in a church surrounded by a large outside space, where a shower area and a kitchen area have been improvised, the latter unintentionally placed between two graves, to the monitor’s hilarity. The church, as well as a large portion of the village, is owned by a rich Christian man, Mr Saruen. He offered much of his land to very poor families, causing the village to slowly come to resemble a collection of hand-built bungalows in the jungle: the homes are all assembled out of recycled bamboo, corrugated iron, thatch and wood.

The families in this village survive in despicable conditions. The majority of adults are garbage collectors in a dumpsite nearby. One of them is Kong Nout, mother of four girls and four boys, who arrived in the village about 6 years ago. “Mr Saruen bought this land and let us live here”, she said. Her house is made of old corrugated iron, a thatched roof, wood, bamboo, with a sand floor. A large wooden table serves as a bed for the whole family when covered by mats and a mosquito net, as a kitchen table, as a play area for the small children, and as a place to receive guests like us. When Nout goes out to work nobody takes care of the children. Of her eight children, none go to school, her eldest 19-year-old daughter is pregnant and her eldest son is in prison for drug dealing and involuntary homicide. “Before, my three younger sons went to school but they always got into fights and got kicked out. That’s why I am scared to send my daughters, in case the same thing happens”, recalls the mother.

Kong Nout during her interview
Kong Nout during her interview

The boots for working on the dumpsite
The boots for working on the dumpsite

One of Kong Nout's daughters
One of Kong Nout’s daughters

One of Kong Nout's daughters
One of Kong Nout’s daughters

The father reappeared four months ago, after years of abandonment, and now lives with them. However, his return has in no way improved the family’s situation. According to Nout, “he has many problems due to drug addiction. He has never taken care of the children and the little money he makes he spends on other women and crystal meth. Every night, when he comes home, he fights with the boys; he’s extremely violent.” The little money she manages to scrape together is nowhere near enough to provide for a 10-person family.

A few years ago, PSE tried to bring the two young sons, Kim and Tao, to live with the Pensionnaires at PSE, but both children tested positive in a drug test. The social service policy does not allow drug-positive children to enter the Pensionnaires to avoid them negatively impacting the group. PSE offered to take in Kong Nout’s other children, but she did not allow it. “I would let the boys go, but not the girls. The boys are very tough to deal with, they are very difficult, and the girls are easier, I want to keep them. Besides, their father wouldn’t let them go to PSE.” In any case, she intends to ask PSE for more help so that all the children can go to school, but only in 3 or 4 months, when her children will have helped her to raise enough money to reimburse the loan she took out to pay her son’s hospital bills in jail. He is getting out soon, and Kong Nout is convinced that “things will get a lot worse when he’s back: him and my husband get into horrifying fights.”

Throughout the month, four of Kong Nout’s children are attending the summer camps. “Working with them is very moving”, explained Camille, a French monitor, “because despite their aggressive behaviours, they can be very sweet and always crave affection from us”. Even though it is difficult for her to have an educative attitude without speaking their language, she says “you have to learn to use body language, make yourself an example, and be creative with the few words you know. In this way we really try to teach the children to resolve problems without violence.” For her the best part of working in this paillote is the idea of being so far from the city and being able to bring the joy of the summer camps to places as remote as this tiny village.

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Camille, a French monitor

 

 

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