It was heartbreaking. We were shown a video of the lives of Cambodian children scavenging in ragged clothes among the garbage dumps in Phnom Penh. One spoke of fainting from sheer hunger and eating rotten fish on the dump site, another of watching her friend buried alive under a rubbish truck, yet another spoke tearfully of being beaten senseless by her parents for not gathering enough rubbish to sell.
My recent visit to Pour Un Sourire D’enfant (‘For the smile of a child’), a non-political, non-religious NGO in Phnom Penh, as part of our annual SIGNIS Asia Assembly of Catholic media personnel, gave me a new appreciation of missionary work. Lay missionary work to be precise.
Christian and Marie-France des Pallières, a Catholic French couple, having fulfilled their parental responsibilities with their own children, decided to look for a meaningful way to spend their retirement. Discernment brought them to Cambodia in 1993. In 1995, deeply moved by the plight and sight of hundreds of children eating, sleeping and living in the middle of rubbish dumps in Stung Mean Chey, they vowed to make some of these children ‘share a smile with them’. This simple yet heartfelt desire has today grown into a school that houses, feeds, educates and brings smiles to over 2000 garbage dump children and their families. The couple continue to live and work their dream in Phnom Penh.
The Pope describes missionary activity as “the response to God’s love”. The huge smiles of the children were by far the best missionary testimony I have ever seen.
Mission Sunday falls on the 19 October. May we continue sharing smiles.