Marie-Laurence Comberti, who passed away following a heart attack on October 25, aged 65, was a well-known figure in Phnom Penh, renowned for her compassion and charity work.
Since the mid-1990s, she had been director in Cambodia of the Monaco-based NGO Amade, setting up a child care center for children at Prey Sar prison and helping at the Anlong Kong and Anlong Kangann eviction sites where she established school programs for children and training programs for their mothers.
“She fought against injustice and poverty for years,” said Maurits Van Pelt, director of Mopotsyo, which runs a diabetes care program in poor neighborhoods in Phnom Penh. “She helped many in desperate situations.”
“Poor women who are jailed often have no one [but themselves] to care for their children,” said Hoy Leanghoin, a friend of Ms. Comberti who works on children’s aid programs. “At the center [in Prey Sar prison], children…receive good food, are bathed, receive basic education,” returning to their mothers’ cells only at night, he said.
Ms. Comberti was planning to set up child care centers at garment factories when she died unexpectedly of a heart attack, Mr. Leanghoin added.
When relocation sites for people evicted from communities in Phnom Penh were inundated during flooding in 2011, Ms. Comberti was there, wading in the floodwater.
To help mothers desperate for work, she set up a craft workshop at the Anlong Kong relocation site and found outlets for the products.
A third-generation Monegasque born in 1948, she was a heavy smoker and had been warned this was affecting her health, said her son Didier Mourenon who came to Cambodia last week with his brother Jean-Patrick Mourenon to handle legal matters. This included emptying her apartment where they found 18 cats and five dogs as their mother’s compassion extended to stray animals, they said Friday.
A translator by training, Ms. Comberti considered Cambodia home: Her great uncle Duke Leon Richard de Chicourt had been the French administrator of Phnom Penh in the 1930s, Jean-Patrick Mourenon said.
A public ceremony in honor of Ms. Comberti is being held today at 9 a.m. at Mith Samlanh next to Friends the Restaurant on Street 215. Everyone is invited to attend.