This is the story of Scott Neeson, a man who went on life-changing holiday to Cambodia and rewrote history for thousands of children. Julia Jasmine tells of the amazing work being done by the Cambodian Children’s Fund
We may never know who Ney Hang, Sreyoun, or Yone Sokleang are, but their stories is one of incredible triumph. They are some of the children whose lives were touched and enhanced by the Cambodian Children’s Fund(CCF). Before CCF took them and others like them under their wing, Ney Hang, Sreyoun, and Yone Sokleang among the thousands of children who were wading through the large landfills, trying to eke out a meagre subsistence from the mounds of rubbish in Phnom Phen. The Khmer Rouge had left a trail of devastation in Cambodia in the late 1970’s, followed by terrible genocide and poverty had became a way of life for many in Cambodia.
An unusual holiday
Enter Scott Neeson! The former President of Century Fox was due to take over at Sony Pictures International and decided on a sabbatical to Cambodia before he started at Sony. And in Cambodia his life changed. He happened upon the Stung Meanchey dump and it was the beginning of an entirely new beginning. The horror of seeing the hordes of children scavenging in the landfill was profoundly moving and as he stood there contemplating the excesses of his life in comparison to the scene before his eyes, he decided to do something about it. Sony never saw Scott’s leadership. He gave up his life in the US and with his own funds started the Cambodian Children’s Fund, a non-governmental organisation founded with the aim to establish a safe and enabled lifestyle for Cambodian children and their families.
The incredible work
The mission of CCF is to improve the living standards of the marginalised, facilitating standard education, medical assistance, access to basic needs, leadership training and support programmes. Founded in 2004, CCF has been faithful to these objectives. At present, 1855 children are cared for at CCF. Seventy percent of the first 200 children who joined at the start are now enrolled in universities and following their dreams and passions – Hang, Sreyoun and Sokleang number among these.
Neeman is a subtle preacher through his loud and visible practice. Today, he spends time at the community every night during his visits to centres around the country. His days are committed to fundraising tasks and his evenings to connect with the people of the community. The CCF, despite its name, focuses on creating a better tomorrow for Cambodia by empowering communities through a child’s education. It has started schooling initiatives, rehabilitation programmes as well as outreach missions to help adults process their history and consequently help the younger generation lead more secure lives. The organisation not only supports a child with financial aid to study but is committed to the vision to build passionate and engaged leaders. “We’re making it possible for the next generation to pull themselves out of poverty and transform their community,” is the motto that CCF lives by. Choosing children as their frontline warriors, and arming them with education and wholesome support, CCF is winning the battle against poverty and laying a fresh layer of healing over the wounds of the past.
The wider mandate
In the words of Joseph A Mussomeli, former US Ambassador to Cambodia, “No NGO in Cambodia has impressed me more than CCF. With relatively little funding and even less administrative overhead, CCF has literally changed and saved hundreds of lives of children.” In an effort to sustain the initial success, CCF has kept a close watch on the community around them. Improper child protection amenities, distorted criminal proceedings against child abusers, unenforced laws, lack of education within the criminal /judicial systems were observed causing various social and emotional injustices that further damaged the vulnerable children of Cambodia.
CCF widened its scope in 2013 to enhance child protection by founding an extension – CCF’S Child Protection Unit. The unit caters to the therapeutic, aftercare needs of victims and that’s not all. In association with the Cambodian National Police, the unit has facilitated legal representation for the children. The members of the unit are trained in defensive measures to enable prosecution and work on building community awareness about and against child abuse. Standard forensic tests were first introduced to Cambodia by CPU. The 2019 report of the CPU of CCF states the approval of ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children), an active force that protects children against cyber crimes.
In 2020, CCF was awarded a 4-star rating – the highest – given by Charity Navigator. It bagged the platinum badge of Guidestar, the world largest source of information on non-profit organisations. CCF is also one of the highest rated NGOs on charity-review site, Great Nonprofits. Holding hands with various renowned organisations from all around the globe, CCF is making strides in countering the bitter legacy left behind by the Khmer Rouge. For the children of Cambodia, CCF continues to write a new future and is helping to shape a better future… all because one man decided to do something.