Great friends and family, this is an expanded final update on my recent trip to work with the great people at The Cambodian Children’s Fund.
Scott Neeson and his team are doing great work under conditions of poverty extreme. I’m attaching a few of the latest pictures of the Medical Center that Bill Casey (75%) and I (25%) funded. One of my objectives was to take part in the actual building of the Center. You will see the inside walls are being finished and the electrical wiring is done. I’ve also attached a few of my favorite pictures that should give you a little peek into the kids and the good work going on.
I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to just recap my visit, spend a little time on the most asked question I get; “Why CCF?” , “Why Cambodia”? and talk a bit about the future and how I will be helping CCF go forward.
I had 3 objectives for my trip to CCF. I’d like to cover each one and the results, briefly. I hope it can give you some insight into the ‘why’ and my passion for this organization.
1. Meet and spend time with Scott Neeson.
Scott is the real deal - his love for these kids is unsurpassed, and they love and admire him with all their hearts. Scott is a modern day hero that we should be telling our kids about. I know now, after walking the dump with him and seeing the despair, how he came away a few years ago and said to himself; “I may not be able to change the world but I can change the way these children live and I can improve the quality of their lives.” The results are amazing. I will do anything to help this guy meet his objectives for these kids.
2. See the CCF facilities and become familiar with the work that they are doing.
You can see the kids get healthier before your eyes. Sick, abused, children are rescued by Scott and his team, which itself has to operate under significant obstacles. Cultural barriers - like the lasting effect of the Khmer Rouge killings - parental alcohol abuse; aids; significant medical crises that create downward spirals which can end up with families actually selling their children, and which create the need to have them work in places like the dump, as well as with an inadequate public school system that sees many kids having to pay their teacher a “tip” every day to be able to go to school, are but some of the problems.
Despite all these and other barriers, Scott and his team currently have 5 facilities that provide one of the best educations in Cambodia for free. The children all have their uniforms, small but adequate rooms to live in, computer access, special classes like art, music and karate and lots more depending on their need and ability. The kids aren’t the only target population either and there are facilities to help their families and communities and that provide skills such as baking and sewing to enable them to secure stable jobs that will help them become self-supporting.
The crown jewel is CCF 5, the Community Center. It’s the facility closest to the dump and never has any organization seen a better return on its investment per square foot than in this location. In this busy space are a nursery for infants; a rice distribution office; a prenatal care and advice area; 3 daycare classrooms; an administration room to screen applicants’ needs and direct them to the best place for help and a small medical center, currently being replaced and its services expanded. There is also a water filtration system at CCF 5 that allows CCF to supply anyone in the local communities with what must be some of the cleanest water in Cambodia. Keep in mind there is no running water or electricity in the dump shanties. And all these facilities operate within walking distance of the dump itself and all its departments are staffed by qualified, trained staff who love these kids as much as Scott does.
You get the gist. You can’t imagine the effect of seeing a picture of a child who was dying when brought in from the dump and then see her in a 3rd grade class, clean and neat, a picture of health, learning and growing and knowing that this child now has a chance, not only to live but to change the downward cycle of poverty in this country. These kids will be the nucleus of the force of change for a better Cambodia. I have no doubt!!!!
3. Represent others - Bill C, myself and all of you who have generously supported CCF by actually helping to build the new Medical Center and determine how I can best help things go forward.
Although the building materials for the center were delayed at the border, Alan Lemon, Danna and the CCF team worked tirelessly once the materials arrived and the progress was terrific. For me, all it took was to continuously look over at the small room currently used to see so many patients and then have the Doctors come over and see the look on their faces as they watch the new facility come to life, to know this was going to be special.
The facility will be open in the next few weeks and it will be another contribution to the work of reversing the cycle of poverty and despair for these children and their families. The best medical care in Cambodia will be provided to anyone who has a need – and for FREE.!!!!! The majority of the patients will come from the dump neighborhoods where the need is the greatest.
As I worked on the Center and thought about my role it became easy for me to think about a scenario working again on another project next year that can also, like the Medical Center, have a major impact on CCF. In early 2010 I will come back to all of you on this because I will need your help. In January 2011 I’m going back to Cambodia and I hope some of you will join me. It will be my goal to fund and complete another major project to be determined by the CCF staff.
My hope will be to raise a minimum of $25,000 for this project and Joan and I are starting the fund with a pledge of $10,000. I will have details on how you can give in January 2010. Joan and I are also going to sponsor a CCF child immediately. It’s a great way to connect to the organization and enjoy a unique and special relationship with a CCF child. Please think about it and check out the opportunities on the CCF website.
Lastly, if I haven’t adequately answered the question, why is CCF different?
Think about a child that has to go off to a garbage dump every morning to sort thru rubbish to find metal, glass, rotting food, etc to sell for pennies, a child who, as a result, is exposed to the worst infections, disease, and environmental hazards you could ever imagine. This child can’t go to school because their parents can’t afford to give them a quarter a day to pay the public school teacher. This child then goes home to a shanty with no running water or electricity, their house is on stilts, on a platform built of scrap wood over a floor of oozing dump runoff.
There is no official help for these people - nothing!!!! Nothing!!! The mother tries her best but may be pregnant or already caring for infants who are not able to go to work yet. Birth control is virtually non-existent here - the traditional need is for lots of children to work and take care of the parents as they age. There is a high likelihood that this child will get sick, be undernourished and receive no education. This child has no hope, no chance, no life unless they find Scott and his team. Scott’s waitlist grows every day. I have been to Haiti, Mexico City, China, Brazil, Jamaica and some of the poorest regions of the world. I have never seen as great a set of negative circumstances against a child as in the dumps of Phnom Penh. For me, that’s why CCF!
Bob Tufts gave up his chance to share Thanksgiving with his family in the US when he came to help CCF put up the new Medical Center that he had helped to fund.
“I have been to Haiti, Mexico City, China, Brazil, Jamaica and some of the poorest regions of the world. I have never seen as great a set of negative circumstances against a child as in the dumps of Phnom Penh. For me, that’s why CCF!“
A chance encounter led Jeanine Braithwaite, a development practitioner with 17 years experience, to visit CCF. What follows is excerpt from the letter she wrote to her friends, family and students.
It was a fine hot day, around 88 or 90, and the dump gave off the sulfurous fumes of hell and smelled like the open sewer that it is. When I commented on the sun, Scott and Patrick reminded me that it was a good thing it was the dry season for my visit, since during the rainy season the dump is slick and boggy and quite dangerous. We walked a few yards in, and I looked around and thought, "Well, my philosophy of life that there is no afterlife but we create our own hells and heaven on earth is completely justified."
Through the shimmers of the noxious fumes, several children were seen picking through the trash and dragging huge loads of trash off for further sorting. It’s hard to guess ages with the children so short (43 percent of Cambodian children under the age of 5 are stunted from chronic malnutrition), but we found one girl who I would guess to be around 7-8 wearing boots. The other children were in flip flops or flimsy shoes. None of them had gloves or facemasks.
Scott sprang into action. The mother of the little girl was sitting under a flimsy tarp. Negotiations in Khmer were undertaken as Scott wanted to take the girl into CCF to be evaluated and the mother refused unless Scott would give the mother rice and medicine, which he did indeed do. I guess it shouldn’t surprise to note that Cambodia has one of the worst records for the sexual trafficking of children in the world. One of CCF’s evaluation criteria is to assess whether the child is at risk to be trafficked.
The next day we talked more about the way that CCF operates with families and the community, its child safety policy, and its procedures for selecting children and how they are fostered at CCF.
I was very pleased to see that CCF works with the families of high-risk children, rather than trying to put a wedge between the kids and their families, that there was no real judgment of poor families—just a genuine urge to help, a comprehensive community development approach, excellent safety policies, and all-around good management and care of the children. It’s one of the best NGOs I have seen, and I have seen a lot of good NGOs around the world.
In my rather considerable experience in poor countries around the globe, I have encountered a number of people motivated by their religious beliefs to provide charity to the world’s poor, and I’ve met a number of secular doctors who volunteer even in conflict zones, but I’ve never before met a Hollywood producer who made movies like Titanic (!) and chucked it all to live year-round in Cambodia, dedicated to saving the people who inhabit his little garbage-infested patch of the world.
Scott has hit upon a very sound strategy for helping not just the children as individuals, but their families and their entire community. Normally, I only find such a high-quality NGO as a local part of an international organization, like Save the Children or CARE. Scott seems to have created CCF’s policies through thinking it through on his own, without a headquarters and some previous decades working in international development. Not a sanctimonious saint, he rather seems quite like a genuinely happy person to me, one who has found his culminating life’s work. And more than 400 children and their families have a chance to escape harrowing poverty, thanks to this one man’s vision and ability to build an organization like CCF to help.
I’m glad for work that I witnessed the terrible poverty of Steung Meanchey, but I am far happier that I wasn’t just seeing it, but that by joining forces with CCF, I could do something about it. And of course, my work with Cambodia will be of far better quality because I know about the urban poverty at its worst in Phnom Penh, but it was even more satisfying to help on a personal level through sponsoring our CCF teen. And CCF provides safe emailing if you sponsor a CCF kid as my family and I now do.