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Lions Roar : March 2017
long-term commitment to keeping their children in school. “We’re putting together these communities of good people and it radiates outward,” Neeson says. “When you’ve got a community of fifteen homes where people have common values, people outside the community see what’s possible. “We’re not imposing our own values. We don’t want abstinence from alcohol. We just don’t want them getting drunk every night. If your child has a perfect attendance record, we pay for the family’s rice for the month. It’s considered a benefit, but it’s basic human rights. People deserve fresh water, enough food on the table, and the ability to access medical care.” “I’VE NEVER HAD SO LITTLE and so much at the same time,” Neeson says. “I have virtu- ally nothing in the way of material possessions. Strangely, there’s nothing I need. It’s such a wonderful feeling. It gives you absolute freedom. You’re not beholden to other people’s dreams and the desire for more material things.” Neeson had a dream of expanding the CCF model to other locations, but his heart and energy are rooted firmly in this community. “I just can’t leave the kids and the families and the grandmothers,” he says. CCF has now been active for twelve years. And the nine-year-old girl who walked by him that first day he stood on the garbage dump? “She is about to start her third year of a university degree in finance and management. She’s the pride and joy,” Neeson says. “Eighty percent of the ori- ginal children are now in university.” Neeson says he found real love in the garbage dumps of Cambodia. “I’d never had any kind of deep love,” he says. “I’d had a number of shorter-term relationships. I was highly eligible in the Hollywood community. It was a great life. People ask me if I miss anything about that. Absolutely. It’s very alluring to never want for money, to have the best of medical care, and a Porsche and a yacht in Marina del Rey, and a police department if anything goes wrong, or a hospital nearby. Occasionally, I have these pangs where I miss that and I just want to relax and live the good life. “But, my goodness, overall I wouldn’t change anything. I still ask myself, ‘What if I hadn’t gone here? What if I hadn’t discovered this place and hadn’t had the opportunity to change so many lives?’ Neeson had put just everything in perspective the morning I talked to him. “I was writing a card to one of the kids today,” he told me, “and I said I would have left Hollywood, given it all up, just for her alone. And I meant it. There are so many children whose lives have changed so much. They’re studying law, psychology, civil engineering, and they’re the most amazing young adults. It’s such a blessing for me. “I can’t tell you how fortunate I’ve been. Some people will go their whole lives without ever having that moment of awaken- ing that happened to me when I first saw the children that day in the Stung Meanchey garbage dump. I am lucky.” ♦ The CCF Maternal Care program has assisted 1000 births without a death. The maternal mortaility rate used to be 6–7%. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2017 43