Mak­ing a Dif­fer­ence

Expat Living (Hong Kong) - - Life & Family - BY MELISSA STEVENS

As the Cam­bo­dian Chil­dren’s Fund pre­pares for its an­nual Hong Kong

gala fundraiser, we chat with founder SCOTT NEE­SON.

It’s been 15 years since for­mer high-fly­ing Hol­ly­wood exec Scott Nee­son made his first visit to Cam­bo­dia, and saw the chil­dren who sur­vived by scav­eng­ing in the Ste­ung Meanchey garbage dump in Ph­nom Penh.

What hap­pened next could al­most be the script of a Tin­sel­town movie it­self. This highly suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man who had worked his way up to the pin­na­cle of the US film in­dus­try from a work­ing-class sub­urb of Aus­tralia turned his back on it all to form the Cam­bo­dian Chil­dren’s Fund (CCF).

That was 14 years ago, and the Fund is now re­spon­si­ble for chang­ing the lives of hun­dreds of chil­dren, whose fam­i­lies are still deal­ing with the legacy of the Kh­mer Rouge regime.

CCF has reached a stage where some of its projects in­clude ini­tia­tives on the scale of the Nee­son Cripps Academy, a world-class ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­ity in the heart of Ste­ung Meanchey. Funded by the Cripps Foun­da­tion, it opened last year and will ed­u­cate about 300 stu­dents in years 8 to 12 in the lat­est science and STEM-based ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes.

“It’s the best ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­ity in Cam­bo­dia and it’s in the poor­est area in the coun­try,” Scott notes. “We have chem­istry, robotics, maths, green screen an­i­ma­tion and cod­ing.”

As with ev­ery­thing CCF does, the model and its im­pact on the com­mu­nity was care­fully con­sid­ered to pro­vide path­ways out of poverty while not be­ing dis­rup­tive. And the or­gan­i­sa­tion stays true to its core val­ues: to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion and lead­er­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties to em­power the chil­dren it helps to be able to lift them­selves and their fam­i­lies out of poverty.

Scott is also pas­sion­ate about main­tain­ing a grass roots, com­mu­nity-based ap­proach to the 64 projects CCF op­er­ates. For ex­am­ple, a key part of the ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes is mak­ing sure chil­dren are taught about val­ues and wis­dom, as well as get­ting a sense of Kh­mer cul­ture.

One way the or­gan­i­sa­tion does this is through its com­mu­nity-based “granny pro­gramme”, where peo­ple spon­sor el­derly women in the com­mu­nity, who then take on lead­er­ship roles with CCF chil­dren, shar­ing their knowl­edge of Kh­mer cul­ture and tra­di­tions, as well as men­tor­ing and guid­ing them and help­ing CCF iden­tify where as­sis­tance is needed.

While mak­ing a dif­fer­ence is no doubt re­ward­ing, it’s also trau­matic be­ing ex­posed to so much hard­ship and poverty. Ask Scott what keeps him mo­ti­vated and his an­swer is sim­ple.

“By the end of last year, I was get­ting to­wards burnout, so I cut to­gether a lovely video of where the chil­dren had started and where they are now,” he says. “It’s see­ing those kids.”

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