Moving Mountains for Children

sightly-poillouxfamilyPoilloux family turns international travels and love of the natural world into humanitarian mission

Photos by Pierre Poilloux

I first met Pierre Poilloux and Isabelle Pieri more than 15 years ago, when I arrived in Paris with little more than a list of the names and phone numbers of friends of friends. They were acquaintances of a poet I knew who had met them several years prior in Indonesia, where they were all traveling.

Though I was a complete stranger, Pierre and Isa welcomed me without reservation into their home. “It’s a big place,” Pierre said of their apartment in the Paris suburbs, “Come here and stay as long as you like.” When I tried to express my gratitude, he shrugged, “It’s normale.” When I saw Pierre’s photographs, I began to get an idea of just how far their sense of community extended. Pierre’s photographs are evidence of how the Poilloux family has woven itself into the daily life of the places they visit, and into the lives of the people who live in those places.sightly-lila

In the years since, Pierre and Isabelle have married and had two children, yet they continue to visit Southeast Asia every year. Pierre’s photos have not only recorded family travels, but a deep and loving bond with the natural world that has formed the foundation for a humanitarian mission.

When their first child, Antoine, was born, Pierre and Isa waited less than a year before leaving Paris for their favorite remote island village, where they rent a small beach house. A few years later, Lila was born. In the island village, their daughter could toddle into any home and find a friendly lap. Both children have made friends among local children in the places they visit and have learned to speak a bit of Indonesian. The natural world of Indonesia provides an enchanting playground for them. Lila has wandered a wildlife preserve hand-in-hand with a mother orangutan. Antoine has become an expert snorkeler and developed an enduring fascination with the creatures of the sea.

sightly-antoine-turtle Whenever these journeys take them away from school for months at a time, Isa tutors them in their studies, keeping them ahead of many of their classmates back in France.

‘Country of My Heart’

Pierre describes Indonesia as “the country of my heart,” the place he’s returned to most often since his first visit in 1989. He said it wasn’t long before he met other like-minded travelers. “So it was natural that, in March 2009, I joined the association T’Aider pour l’ASE, this group of friends who want to move mountains working for the children of Southeast Asia.”

T’Aider pour l’ASE is an association of travelers who love Southeast Asia and who combine their passion for travel with humanitarian efforts. The association’s aim is to participate in collaborative projects with local partners toward helping children and young people in Southeast Asia, within a context of environmental awareness and sustainable development.

Currently, T’Aider pour l’ASE sponsors a kindergarten in the village of Trapaing Anchanh, 13 miles from Phnom Penh. The government evicted village residents from a waterfront community in Phnom Penh and “relocated” them to an undeveloped area with no water, electricity or public transportation to the city, where many had jobs and businesses. There were no local schools for their children. In 2006, Mr. Kang Thea created the kindergarten, which now serves 55 children, ages 3 to 5, from the displaced families of Trapaing Anchanh and five surrounding villages.

The school receives no government aid, and the children come from poor families unable to pay the $2.50 monthly contribution that the school requires. T’Aider pour l’ASE provides funds to support the salaries of the two teachers, as well as potable water and a nutritious daily meal for each child. In the past year, five members of the association have traveled to Cambodia to benchmark efforts in Trapaing Anchanh and explore ways to widen T’Aider pour l’ASE’s reach in Indonesia.

sightly-kindergarten1The association’s funds are generated from membership fees and donations, events such as concerts and the sale of postcards and calendars, which feature photographs by Pierre and fellow member Jean-Christian. Pierre manages the production of the calendars and postcards.

The association’s members believe that children are full participants in their development, and that education will provide them the means to become adults who can build a sustainable future for their communities. In a politically and economically fragile country, T’Aider pour l’ASE is helping these children to “write the pages of their future,” Pierre said. At the same time, families like the Poilloux family are continuing to expand the definitions of family and community, and to open their hearts and minds to the wonders of the larger—natural, human—world. They’ve helped me to see that there really are no strangers here.

>> To view calendars and postcards, go to and click “la boutique.” Although there is no English version of the Web site, readers interested in purchasing items may contact Pierre directly at pierre [dot] poilloux [at] wanadoo [dot] fr.

>> To view more photos by Pierre Poilloux, click here to visit his online gallery.

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