We all love a good party over here at Mad Monkey Phnom Penh. Guests know us as a “party hostel”, we hold nightly events at our bar, and we can always be tempted by a shot of tequila… However, this isn’t all we are. A huge part of the Mad Monkey mission is to be a positive influence and connect our guests to the communities we work in. Not only do we pride ourselves in providing fair employment for our local staff, but we strive to create a beneficial social impact through everything we do.
What is Cambodian Children’s Fund?
Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) was created in 2004 when Hollywood marketing executive Scott Neeson saw an opportunity to affect change in a small Cambodian community. CCF is an education program that helps children and their families lift themselves out of poverty. What started as a school has expanded considerably, as CCF now helps children on every level from providing food, to medical services, to vocational training.
How Cambodian Children’s Fund Started
When Scott traveled around Southeast Asia in 2003, he found himself in the outskirts of Phnom Penh where he saw thousands of families living in poverty. Wanting to help, he bought a house for a family and sent the kids to school. He started flying back and forth from L.A. to Phnom Penh, helping one family at a time in an area next to a garbage dump. It was at this dump where children were searching for things to sell to help make money for their families. After seeing these kids digging through the dump day after day instead of attending school, Scott realized that it wasn’t enough to only provide a home or even help the children get an education. To really make an impact, he knew you have to start at the grassroots level — so he started a different kind of school.
“The only way to provide lasting, generational change, is to ensure that whole families are lifted from poverty. CCF provides not only for the health and wellbeing of children, but for their families and community.” – Cambodian Children’s Fund
The original aim of the school was to provide education for a few kids with his own money. Over the years, it has evolved and grown to two schools (a primary school and high school) with more than 2,400 students and 64 programs. Scott saw that for most families, education wasn’t a top priority. They were malnourished, without proper healthcare, and had other problems at home. His goal was to work with the entire family and to overall grow the community. It is with this intention that he created the CCF – both a school and a support system to get families out of poverty through education, community outreach, leadership, healthcare, childcare and vocational training.
What does Cambodian Children’s Fund do?
The CCF is so much more than just education. Because healthcare isn’t easily accessible, there’s a medical center where they see over 100 patients a day. They have a sponsorship program to match individual students with donors. Unlike most sponsorship programs, the CCF has a one-to-one model where a relationship is built between the sponsor and the child through regular communication. The CCF also has a Child Rescue Center to assist with childbirth, and a drop-in center where parents can safely leave their children while they work.
The students also attend public school for half of the day, but every subject is taught at the CCF. The high school focuses on STEM subjects and even has a 3D printer for the students to use. Students are involved in leadership programs where they are required to do 100 hours of community service every year and the CCF helps soon-to-be-graduates find jobs.
An Afternoon at Cambodian Children’s Fund School
Every year, some of Mad Monkey’s staff make a visit to CCF primary school to present our annual donation to the class we sponsor. This year we stopped by in January. We walked up to the second floor to the computer room to see a dozen uniformed students experimenting with PowerPoint. Colorful posters covered the walls, a mix of Khmer (Cambodian) and English. The kids let us see what they were working on and proudly showed off their English skills.
Next, we headed to the recently opened Neeson Cripps Academy (CCF’s affiliated high school) to tour their impressive facilities. After walking past a dozen classrooms of enthusiastic students eagerly waiting to answer questions (not even an exaggeration — 4 years of teaching and I’ve never seen such keen teenagers), we checked out the rooftop. They had basketball courts shaded by solar panels and they told us how this area is particularly busy during the weekends when students gather here for various clubs and sports.
These same students were rummaging through trash just over 10 years ago and are now preparing for university. The dump where they used to spend their days is visible from the balconies and is now closed. It’s pretty spectacular being able to see the changes this community has undergone; once a place where education wasn’t really an option, now a neighborhood where the students are excited to learn and go to class.