“I saw people through the living room window so I came.” It was first out of curiosity that six-year-old Aliza went down to paint in the courtyard of her building in La Benausse, a long-neglected city in the 14th arrondissement where the poverty rate exceeds 40%.

Her mother, a cleaning lady, has no holidays this summer. So Aliza keeps busy in the small playground separating the two large concrete blocks of the residence or in her apartment. “I really like painting, but I don’t have any at home,” she regrets, brush in hand.

The initiative, launched by the association “Arts

In the workshop, “the children let go a little”, smiles Anna Chamoulaud, project manager in this association, watching the twenty children draw at La Benausse. “We try to put color in their daily lives” even during the holidays, when many extra-curricular activities are suspended.

This summer, Clara Romano-Aguado, Spanish artist in residence within the association, offers them to color a large sheet to then cut out pieces, stick them on clothes and add fruit pits also painted by their care.

To arouse their curiosity, the artist shows them examples of paintings on t-shirts by the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). “They know the artists by name, but they don’t know the work,” according to Ms. Chamoulaud.

The opportunity to “bring a certain cultural openness, (them) to give references and knowledge” on the history of art, she adds.

Seven-year-old Dounia, who will not be able to join her grandparents in Tunisia this summer as usual, did not know Picasso but is pleased to be able to paint.

“We feel a real divide” in these working-class neighborhoods where families “can no longer afford to go” on vacation, “to pay for tickets to return to their families”, underlines Anne Chamoulaud.

In France, one in four children does not go on vacation, according to figures from the Ministry of National Education published in 2020.

The 150 outdoor centers of the second city of France offer 13,000 places during the holidays, according to the town hall, but the waiting lists are long and the 180,000 young people from Marseille cannot all take advantage of them.

– “We have the sea” –

Marseille, on the shores of the Mediterranean, offers many beaches and access to the sea. But “it’s not because you can see the sea from your window that you know how to swim”, notes Patrick Fancello, president of the association “Marseille capital of the sea”.

To teach the crawl or the breaststroke to children from often landlocked neighborhoods and counting among the poorest in France, all summer long, buses pick up 150 “minots” at the foot of their city and take them to the very chic Cercle des nageurs of Marseilles (CNM).

“Breathe, otherwise you’ll be tired,” advises a CNM lifeguard to a youngster. For an hour on Wednesday, around thirty children aged nine to 12, on the whole “uncomfortable in the water” learned to swim in the Olympic basin having trained champions like Laure Manaudou or Alain Bernard.

The parents of Nasser, 12, did not have “enough money” for him to accompany them to the Comoros, their country of origin. “I’m going to go to the beach and stay at home,” he breathes. But this week will have allowed him to learn “to swim on his back”.

A 2018 report by the Court of Auditors pointed to a pool ratio per inhabitant in Marseille “six times lower than the national average”, resulting in wide disparities in learning to swim between children from poor neighborhoods in the North and rich in the South.

“In Marseille, the population must be reconnected to the Mediterranean”, insists Mr. Fancello. Starting with the children who have “not too many possibilities”.