OFF THE WALL
Vans hand out hundreds of products to CCF kids at a gifting event in Phnom Penh with Pro Legend skateboarders Tony Alva and Christian Hosoi
The roar from nearly 2,000 children rolled around the marquee and almost threatened to lift the canvas roof right off before the wind got there first.
Adding to the cacophony was the clatter from the wheels of skateboards and thudding music booming out of speakers.
This is was the incredible sounds after a piece of wasteland at CCF in Steung Meanchey, Phnom Penh, was taken over and turned overnight into the location for a event with Vans, the legendary American shoes and apparel brand.
And it was all down to a promise made by Steve Van Doren, a Vice President of Vans and son of the brand’s co-founder Paul, last year.
After meeting CCF founder, Scott Neeson, and hearing about his work with impoverished children, Mr Van Doren had vowed to visit Cambodia and CCF.
Earlier this month, he kept his promise.
Mr Van Doren and a team from Vans travelled more than 13,000 km from California to Phnom Penh to make good on his vow to see firsthand the work CCF is doing.
This included going out into the community to walk around some of the most deprived areas in Cambodia, at times picking his way through mud and garbage.
Mr Van Doren met children and families struggling in desperate conditions and heard how CCF is helping to end the cycle of grinding poverty, an experience he described as “amazing.”
“We get to share some life experience and see what someone like Scott, reaching out the world, can do,” said Mr Van Doren, Vans’ Vice President of Events & Promotions.
“I am amazed at the great people who are helping children to have a chance in life. It’s great to be here and participate in that.”
Mr Van Doren, 62, hadn’t come empty-handed.
With him he brought boxes filled with 2,000 pairs of iconic Vans shoes – all made at a Vans factory in Cambodia not far from CCF – 2,000 Vans T-shirts and sunglasses, and wooden toys for the little ones, and two very special guests from America, no other than skateboard legends Tony Alva and Christian Hosoi.
Both stars, known as pioneers of the sport, performed live demonstrations on a wooden mini pipe ramp built at the venue in front of CCF’s thrilled young crowd.
At a table nearby, a team of Vans staff and Mr Van Doren handed out the Vans gifts to CCF kids, and each child received a brand new pair of Vans shoes.
The smiles from the kids said it all. From Kindergarten students, barely able to hold their pile of Vans goodies, to teenage students from the Neeson Cripps Academy, the joy was clear to see. For some, it would have been their first proper pair of shoes.
KFC generously donated food packs for the event, while Khmer street artists organised by CCF supporter, KBach Gallery, painted a mural live on the day.
There was also dancing – traditional Khmer from CCF’s kindergarten kids and a more modern performance from the older students choreographed to one of Mr Van Doren’s favourite songs, ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams.
Tony Alva, 60, and Christian Hosoi, 50, proved they still had the star pulling power and the magic on the ramp. Afterwards, they spoke of their impressions of CCF and the communities that it serves.
“It’s been just an amazing journey,” said Mr Alva.
“Thanks to Steve Van Doren, thank you to Scott Neeson just for being a saint of a man. It’s all about giving back from what we’ve been so freely given. It’s just a beautiful life and I’m really, really grateful for this day.”
His fellow skateboarder, who injured his foot a few days before the event but was determined to skate, said he wouldn’t have missed it for the world, “just be here to experience the love that you feel from these kids, their faces and their smiles when you’re walking down the street.
“You look at their circumstances and conditions and you would think there would be sadness and some sombreness but all I feel is this love from these kids and it’s exhilarating.”
CCF founder Scott Neeson described the event as a “day our kids will remember for a very long time.”
“CCF shares many of the Vans values, cultures and ideals, making this one of our most valued relationships, “ he said.
“We are enormously grateful to Steve, Christian, Tony and the whole Vans team.”
It looks like this is just the beginning for Vans and CCF.
There is already talk of the Vans team returning to Cambodia next year with another trip to CCF on the agenda.
“It’s our first time here and I fell in love with it, looking at these kids’ faces and seeing the transformed lives because of this beautiful organisation, CCF, and we got to be a huge part of it today.,” said Christian Hosoi.
“To see those kids when we gave them the shoes, the shirt and the glasses, they were so thankful. Even before that they were so happy and to see their faces light up again, it was something beautiful that I’ll always remember.”
Mr Van Doren, who said that two of his vice presidents already sponsor CCF children, vowed that he would be back.
“We can see how the Vans’ heart can go out in the future and help people like the Cambodian Children’s Fund,” he said.
“We have a manufacturing factory with 10,000 employees not far from CCF and I’d love to come back and see them again as well as CCF.”
There’s no doubt that Steve Van Doren will be as good as his word again.
Kate Ginn/ CCF
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