Since I have been in Cambodia…

…there have been any number of small and huge global tragedies. But as a US citizen the headlines of Sandy Hook and now Boston find their way to the top of my internet searches.
The headlines, the pictures, the shocking irrational cruelty of Boston cannot be denied. In the midst of such an iconic and commanding American celebration the streets explode as if struck by some random unexplainable asteroid suddenly shattering the most personal and the most public.
Many inspiring words have already been written to get us through and past this tragedy.
But to me it seems one of the most difficult things with violence is the shame in knowing that one of us was capable of such an act.
Not one of us like an American citizen, not one of us like an unstable kid from down the street – but one of us – another human being.
Today Boston is the heartbreaking event that has reached us and moved us. We so much want to reach out to those who have been personally impacted; we so much want to reach out to a nation who has had one of its great traditions fragmented and damaged. And we want to be consoled and inspired by a City with huge courage and pride and so it should be
But the day by day violence perpetrated by humans upon humans goes much deeper and more frequent than any single headline. Parent to child, husband to wife, brother to brother, neighbor to neighbor, religion to religion – it’s a long list.
I live in a country (Cambodia) that had its heart ripped out by the Khmer Rouge. People are still impacted by the tragic and mindless cruelty of a country that turned in on itself. A country that lost generations, destroyed families and cannibalized the best of its own for what seems to be an incomprehensible political agenda.
And yet every day because of my colleagues and students at CCF I see the resilience of the heart – individuals reaching out to help this one, protect that one, rescue a lost one, comfort a tiny one, care for an old one.
Every day I hold the hands of children who would be forgotten if someone had not taken a moment. Every day I am dazzled by a teenager who is making a difference because someone took a moment to get them into school. I see the faces of women once beaten and now free from domestic violence because someone took a stand for them, young girls headed for garment factories or worse now thriving in classrooms surrounded by friends and laughter.
As Scott Neeson says and I have witnessed “it only takes a moment.”
For all of us, each day presents us with something to do, some small action to take, someone or something calls for our energy and attention — Calls for our humanity to be greater, stronger and more important than anything else in that moment.


The Magician


The visionary and founder of Cambodian Children’s Fund is many things: a former Hollywood executive, a charismatic leader, a warrior for the rights of children and women, a powerful negotiator and the list goes on.
But in addition to all these – he is in fact a Magician. A person who in a twinkle of an eye can make sad little faces turn into hesitant smiles, transform the dirtiest urchins into little scholars and give a lost family shelter and new direction. The children and the people in the Steung Meanchey slums know this, so when Scott is out on his nightly walkabouts he is most often surrounded by an audience of fans hoping to see him pull a proverbial rabbit out of a hat.
In all the commotion that usually surrounds him his movements are almost undetectable.
And yet when Scott wants to change something, fix something or tend to something it can happen almost instantly. He sweeps around never loosing eye contact with his admiring audience and “poof” – a child is washed, dressed and fed, a beaten wife is in the care of the medical team, a young girl with dengue fever is swept up by the CCF staff disappearing into the night and off to the local hospital, a naked child is suddenly dressed in t-shirt and sweat pants so he can go to school the next day and the list goes on.
Recently far out in the village late at night, a child had a small injury and magically Scott’s pick-up truck pulled up with the first aid kit. In moments the child was tended to, set right with a Spiderman band aid on his forehead and treated to a new toy car.
Later on, in a crowd watching his every move Scott does a quick slight of hand and slips a needy mother a few dollars and her family eats for the night, his indecipherable hand writing on a voucher given in the dead of night contains a magical code that opens the door of education and support for a family at the first light of day, a pink piggy bank stuffed with a dollar appears in the hands of a child who has excelled at school.
When misdirected parents take their kids out of school and put them back to work scavenging or out to the country to work Scott finds them in a heartbeat and with a wave of his powerful wand and some magical words the child shows up the next day books in hand and back at school.
I sometimes wonder whether his business card reads “Scott Neeson, Founder” or “Scott Neeson, Master Magician”.

I Wish I Was a Poet!


Photo courtesy of Scott Neeson, Founder CCF
I have been remiss.  As if I went west to Cambodia and dropped off the edge of the earth. 


And so I did in a sense.  I dropped into a world that is so unlike anything I have every experienced, a world that is foreign to me in all its sights and sounds and yet it is all so familiar that I am more at home here than anywhere before. 


I did not write because nothing was happening, but just the opposite- so much was happening.  So many heart wrenching and joyous experiences were coming at me I could not put words around them.


It was like being in a meteor shower of the most intense inspiring, awesome and terrifying moments.  And no time to sort them out or gain an analytical, rational foothold. A free fall into a connection with phenomenal kids desperate for a place of safety and love, Down into a seemingly endless gap that separates those of us who have with those who do not and the very personal and direct call to get involved. 


CCF is like a Bermuda Triangle of love — kids who deserve better and break your heart with their stories and struggles, an environment seemingly without a shred of hope and a band of warriors committed to making a difference in these tiny lives.   Anyone (not just me) who comes too close to its magnetic field falls head over heels.


In a kind of melodramatic way I felt totally inadequate to relay in the simplest terms my experiences.  I longed to be a poet.  Like Rumi or Robert Frost or ee Cummings or Maya Angelou.  I wanted to be able to use words not to simply narrate the events but to capture the heart and spirit of my experiences, to paint a picture, to move you to the places that I had been moved to.


A thousand of my words were not adequate to do the job.  Barring the talent needed to do the job I just stopped writing. 


But then I missed writing as if I have lost contact with some part of myself and my virtual friends whose support is so key as I continue my adventure.  And so I start to write again because (of course) it is all about me, my need to express, my need to feel connected to you – whoever you are or are not.


And blogging is a bit of a conundrum really.  A bit like the Japanese Koan “what is the sound of one hand clapping”.


Is a blog a blog because someone writes it or when someone reads it? 


So, I write as it someone is reading, someone is listening.  I write as if I am speaking directly to those invisible folks who somehow want a glimpse into my journey, my Cambodian adventure. 


And in the end, I would hate it if did not make an attempt document the rare and extraordinary experience of being with the Cambodian Children’s Fund in Phnom Penh.   That I am one of the few people here to document the amazing day by day events that go on is both privilege and responsibility.  That my inadequacies and self-doubt would get in the way seems self-indulgent or simply my ego totally concerned on how good I might be as a writer vs. how phenomenal CCF is as a place of magic and wonder. 


In any case I am back to blogging – me with my rambling sentences, long winded explanations, creative punctuation, and grammatical errors and misspells that escape the best spell checkers.   I am back.


And in lieu of my own poetic words I offer you this from Maya Angelou


… a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom. 


Excerpt from I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings


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