Mildura Weekly : February 28 2014 Vol 8 No 17
www.milduraweekly.com.au 16 Mildura Weekly – 28/02/14 • From Page 14 “There are so many stories to tell, so much incredible work going on - and the more organisations can show what they are doing, the more sup- port they will receive.” With that in mind, Ryan went back to uni and gained a graduate diploma in Journal- ism to build his communica- tion skills. He spent the next few years in Melbourne as an online journalist - learning about online communica- tions tools, website design and development, and social media and video. “Like a lot of young Aus- tralians, Asha and I were re- ally excited by the prospect of working overseas,” he said. “We had done plenty of backpacking to all parts of the globe (Nepal, Tibet, In- dia, Ghana, Morocco, Egypt, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos) but the idea of spending a few years in a place and really get- ting to know us was enticing. “Also working in Asia, and especially in a develop- ing country like Cambodia, offered a great deal of chal- lenges, and the chance to real- ly test ourselves. We arrived in Cambodia on a bus from Viet- nam after spending 6 months travelling around south-east Asia, and soon found work with CCF.” Ryan said it was a real eye-opener seeing how fami- lies worked in shocking con- ditions among the filth of Steung Meanchey. It’s a dif- ferent world. As each garbage truck arrives, it is swamped by dozens of people, who ignore warning blasts of the horn as the tip-trucks dump their loads. Some of the scavengers jump into the truck to get a head start on their rivals. Most of them don’t have proper footwear. Thongs or sandals are the norm...some even go barefoot. Injuries are common, and smoke from the constant fires – burning a wide range of toxic materials – is also a hazard. The people who work here are the poorest of the poor. They are uneducated, il- literate, torn apart from their families, with no ambition, and little hope. Before Scott Neeson started CCF, they had no access to newspapers, ra- dio or television...they didn’t know what a computer was... they were virtually cut off from the rest of the world. All they knew was rubbish. Most of them live in small shanties, covering less than five square metres, and the land on which they live is owned by a woman who charges $5 a month rent. Un- til CCF came along and started its programs, these children and their families had little or no hope of a better life. Ryan admitted that to he and Asha, the conditions were really confronting, especially seeing new kids who were malnourished, or abandoned because their parents just couldn’t afford to provide for them. Thanks to CCF and other NGO’s, things are vastly dif- ferent now, and there have been some amazing success stories. Breakfast time could see as many as 300 children line up daily, and medical professionals are on hand to tend to a steady procession of cuts and scrapes, bruises, punctures, skin lesions and other injuries. After break- fast, some attend one of the schools that have been set up by the NGO’s. The work by Neeson, Ryan, Asha and their fellow CCF workers is life-changing for the young Cambodians. What started as a helping hand for 87 kids in 2004 has evolved into a respected wel- fare ‘family’ that now assists almost 2000 students annual- ly, and around 10,000 people in crisis with a wide range of health, education and welfare needs. “Those children who en- tered the first CCF classroom in 2004 are now adults,” Ryan said. “They are vibrant, confi- dent young men and women who have careers and bright futures ahead of them. This year we have 35 students starting university. Next year that number will hit 150. “To see young men and women who have gone from picking through garbage in one of the world’s most toxic environ- ments, to undertaking a de- gree and holding a part-time office job is something that is truly profound.” CCF says a basic aim is to give each child a chance to discover their individual voic- es. “We are proud to see our students demonstrate intol- erance for injustice, a strong sense of self-worth and a deep sense of compassion and re- spect for their communities and country - ultimately hon- ing their potential to emerge as leaders and progressive spokespeople enacting posi- tive social change,” Neeson says Ryan and Asha couldn’t agree more, and that’s why they are devoted to the cause. • FOOTNOTE: Ryan’s par- ents, Russell and Berna- dette, have visited Ryan in Cambodia, and Russell recently gave a report to Irymple Rotary, which has pledged $4000 to ensure that 35 local children are vaccinated against a range of diseases. He is more than impressed with the work of CCF, and encour- ages people to support its Cambodian relief pro- jects. Where there’s heartbreak, there’s hope • BIG MAN, BIG HEART: Scott Neeson, ABOVE, gave up a life of luxury in the Hollywood film industry to start the world-recognised Cambodia Children’s Fund, and devote his life to helping improve the health, education and overall welfare of the country’s peasant class. He is a genuine legend in the country, and Mildura’s Ryan Witcombe says it’s an honour to be able to help Neeson achieve his goals.
February 21 2014 Vol 8 No 16
Friday March 7 2014 Vol 8 No 18