Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why We Fundraise

It was a success story right out of a Hollywood script. Working class boy from an industrial neighborhood in Australia makes it big. Scott Neeson loved movies and had a knack for picking winners. He quickly climbed the ranks of the Australian film industry before becoming President of 20th Century Fox in LA. Neeson was responsible for bringing such mega hits to the screen as Titanic, Braveheart, Independence Day, X-Men, Die Another Day and over 100 other films.

But in 2003 as he was about to transition to a new position at Sony Pictures, Scott decided to take some time off and visit Southeast Asia. Invited by a resident of Phnom Penh, Cambodia to visit Steung Meanchey, a stinking, fetid shanty town perched atop a toxic landfill, Neeson's life was about to flip 180 degrees. Picking through the rotting waste and mountainous garbage were scores of desperately poor Cambodians searching for recyclables that could be turned in for pennies on the pound. Most heartbreaking, many of the pickers were children - clad in tatters, filthy, and wearing the sullen mask of despair.
Neeson and friend at Steung Meanchey, Cambodia

But Neeson's transformation of spirit was launched by an ironic, movie script like incident that took place as he stood ankle-deep in trash that day. He had just received a call on his cell phone from the agent of a Hollywood superstar. The agent was railing against Neeson because his client would not be receiving adequate in-flight entertainment on the private jet that Sony Pictures had provided him. As described in a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, "Neeson overheard the actor griping in the background. 'My life wasn't meant to be this difficult.' Those were his exact words," Neeson says. "I was standing there in that humid, stinking garbage dump with children sick with typhoid, and this guy was refusing to get on a Gulfstream IV because he couldn't find a specific item onboard," he recalls. "If I ever wanted validation I was doing the right thing, this was it."

Inspired by the staggering needs of the Steung Meanchey community and in stark contrast with that recent hedonistic exhibition of shallow excess, Neeson spent the rest of his holiday considering the creation of what would soon become the Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF). Within a year he had chucked his highflying executive career with his $1 million salary, and sold his home, boats and cars. He even held a giant garage sale to help him jettison all the detritus that before had seemed important indicators of his success.

Today, Cambodian Children's Fund provides refuge, education and medical treatment for hundreds of children across five separate facilities. Nearly two-thirds of these students once lived and worked in Steung Meanchey, picking plastic and metal out of the mountains of burning, hazardous waste and selling them to local recycling centers. CCF has even opened a bakery and restaurant to offer vocational training to older students and unemployed youth living in the area. Future plans include additional Satellite Schools throughout the village. The following three minute video gives an overview of their work.

This is why we fundraise.

It's to support courageous visionaries such as Scott Neeson. It is to ensure the children of Cambodia, Mawali, Santa Domingo, or Tennessee have a better life. It is to benefit those who are powerless, victimized, without hope. It is to provide a better life, an education, a chance to be a future leader to those who might otherwise be no more than a sad statistic. That is why we fundraise. And if we forget, think of Scott Neeson and his children of Steung Meanchey. Think of the children on the dumps of Changde, China, Lagos, Nigeria, Jakarta, Indonesia, Sidon, Lebanon, New Delhi, India, Lima, Peru, or Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Because at each of these dumps --the largest trash heaps in the world-- each one is being "worked" by thousands of children, trying to stay alive. This is why we fundraise.

1 comment:

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