Articles & stories The Power of Doing Good

The Power of Doing Good
A decade ago, movie mogul Scott Neeson had an epiphany. On a return visit to Stung Meanchey, a putrid garbage dump in Phnom Penh that is home to thousands of desperate, scavenging Cambodian families, Neeson received a call from a film star.

“My life was not meant to be this difficult,” complained the multi-millionaire actor about having to board a Gulfstream jet for a promotional tour. Meanwhile, the 20th Century Fox President was standing next to four orphans suffering from typhoid, whose lives had always been bleak and were now soon to end.

At that point, Neeson decided to abandon the Hollywood glitz, sell up, move to Phnom Penh and devote his life to helping Cambodia’s children, he told the AIC in an emotional speech.

“There is a moment when a previously neglected or abused child begins to understand that the care given is unconditional and lifelong. That is a magic moment,” he said.

The Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) is one of the fastest growing charities in the country, and was awarded four out of four stars by the U.S. charity evaluator, Charity Navigator.

Education and instilling self-confidence are the main pillars of its activities, plus projects incorporating families and communities, improving healthcare, building homes, and funding individual children’s schooling, explained Neeson. The public school enrolment rate among beneficiaries is now 100 percent, and priority is given to children who struggle to attend for logistic reasons or who might be vulnerable to domestic violence and substance abuse.

The next stage is to prepare children for careers which will not only help them and their families, but revitalise Cambodia after its genocidal recent past.

“The best thing the government can do is create a dynamic economy,” said Neeson.

CCF’s relationship with the government is solid, forged on cooperation that extends to policing child prostitution and trafficking rings. Last year, they created a Child Protection Unit staffed by Australian and Cambodian officers that achieved an 87 percent arrest rate.

Neeson believes that his model can be replicated throughout the country, but each operation should retain its autonomy rather than scale-up in order to preserve a sense of ownership and dignity. The emphasis on separate units means that the CCF doesn’t get funding from the large philanthropic groups such as the Gates Foundation.

Instead, it relies on individual donations and from the support of organizations, such as Credit Suisse, that understand Neeson’s vision.

“I believe that every individual has the power to bring about significant change, good or bad. Whether we choose to use that power — and for what purpose — defines our legacy,” he said.