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Lions Roar : March 2017
have to help their whole family. “Even four- and five-year-olds are working because parents have debt or are sick and they have no option,” he explains. “So we work out a specific program so families see their lives improved. Then the child can have a childhood and no worries other than studying and doing the community work. “We offer families a whole series of benefits. If a child goes to school, the parents get free health care visits at a medical clinic. We’ll deliver fresh water to the door for those who are sick.” CCF also offers refinancing for those in debt. “A $200 debt will cost them approximately a dollar a day for the rest of their lives. There’s no way out of it. So if the parents can meet the basic values of getting the child to school and there is no violence or substance abuse, then we will refinance the loan. And once it’s paid off, we help the family start a small business or perhaps buy back the family land.” CCF works to restore parts of Cambodia’s traditional culture that were lost because of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge per- iod. That wisdom is held by the society’s elders. “I spent a lot of time with the grandmothers, those who had grown up before the Khmer Rouge, who still had memories of the old days,” Neeson says. “They’re devout Buddhists. I listened to them talk about what life was like. They had lived in awful conditions—begging, trying to find food in trash. Most had lost their children during the Khmer Rouge days. “I was astounded by their resilience and their ability to over- come what had been done to them. There was not the resent- ment or bitterness you would expect, given what they had been through. They were so loving, and they still are.” Below: Children hold photos of themselves from when they lived and scavanged in the garbage dump. Today, through the Cambodian Children’s Fund, they have nutritional food and proper housing. “I’ve never had so little and so much at the same time. Strangely, there’s nothing I need. It’s such a wonderful feeling, and absolute freedom.” LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2017 41