From Hollywood to The Garbage Dumps

AOMusic aligns with causes around the world who are devoted to helping children.  We work with SoleHope and HavServe to help crisis ridden areas.  But here is one man I want to meet and work with. Scott Nesson.   He is someone who can shine a light for all of us on what it means to follow your heart.  This is an article from the Christian Science Monitor.

Christian Science Monitor

Scott Neeson left Hollywood to save children rooting in Cambodia’s garbage dumps  He sold his mansion, Porsche, and yacht and set off for Cambodia to provide food, shelter, and education to destitute children.

 Neeson’s final epiphany came one day in June 2004. The high-powered Hollywood executive stood, ankle deep in trash, at the sprawling landfill of Stung Meanchey, a poor shantytown in Cambodia‘s capital

Scott, a former head of 20th Century Fox International, cares for more than 1,000 Cambodian children and their families.

In a haze of toxic fumes and burning waste, swarms ofPhnom Penh‘s most destitute were rooting through refuse, jostling for scraps of recyclables in newly dumped loads of rubbish. They earned 4,000 riel ($1) a day – if they were lucky.

Many of the garbage sorters were young children. Covered in filthy rags, they were scruffy, sickly, and sad.

Clasped to Mr. Neeson’s ear was his cellphone. Calling the movie mogul from a US airport, a Hollywood superstar’s agent was complaining bitterly about inadequate in-flight entertainment on a private jet thatSony Pictures Entertainment, where Neeson was head of overseas theatrical releases, had provided for his client.

Neeson overheard the actor griping in the background. ” ‘My life wasn’t meant to be this difficult.’ Those were his exact words,” Neeson says. “I was standing there in that humid, stinking garbage dump with children sick with typhoid, and this guy was refusing to get on a Gulfstream IV because he couldn’t find a specific item onboard,” he recalls. “If I ever wanted validation I was doing the right thing, this was it.”

Doing the right thing meant turning his back on a successful career in the movie business, with his $1 million salary. Instead, he would dedicate himself full time to a new mission: to save hundreds of the poorest children in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Much to everyone’s surprise, within months the Australian native, who as president of 20th Century Fox International had overseen the global success of block-busters like “Titanic,” “Braveheart,” and “Die Another Day,” quit Hollywood. He sold his mansion inLos Angeles and held a garage sale for “all the useless stuff I owned.” He sold off his Porsche and yacht, too.

His sole focus would now be his charity, the Cambodian Children’s Fund, which he had set up the previous year after coming face to face, while on vacation in Cambodia, with children living at the garbage dump.

“The perks in Hollywood were good – limos, private jets, gorgeous girlfriends, going to the Academy Awards,” says Neeson, an affable man with careworn features and a toothy smile. “But it’s not about what lifestyle I’d enjoy more when I can make life better for hundreds of children.”

He sits at his desk barefoot, Cambodian-style, in white canvas pants and a T-shirt. At times he even sounds like a Buddhist monk. “You’ve got to take the ego out of it,” he says. “One person’s self-indulgence versus the needs of hundreds of children, that’s the moral equation.”

On the walls of his office, next to movie posters signed by Hollywood stars, are before-and-after pictures of Cambodian children. Each pair tells a Cinderella story: A little ragamuffin, standing or squatting in rubbish, transforms in a later shot into a beaming, healthy child in a crisp school uniform.

Neeson has more than 1,300 sets of such pictures; that’s how many children his charity looks after. Every one of the children, the Australian humanitarian stresses, he knows by sight, and most of them by name. “You go through a certain journey with them,” he says. Houy and Heang were among the first who started that journey with him in 2004. Abandoned by their parents, the two sisters, now 17 and 18, lived at the dump in a makeshift tent. “We felt sick and had no shoes. Our feet hurt,” Houy recalls in the fluent English she’s learned. “We’d never seen a foreigner,” Heang adds. “He asked us, ‘Do you want to study?’ ”

Today the sisters are about to graduate from high school. They want to go on to college.

Neeson maintains four residential homes around town for more than 500 other deprived children and is building another. He operates after-school programs and vocational training centers. He’s built day cares and nurseries. His charity provides some 500 children with three meals a day and runs a bakery where disadvantaged youths learn marketable skills while making nutrient-rich pastry for the poorest kids. It pays for well over 1,000 children’s schooling and organizes sightseeing trips and sports days for them. “I drive the staff crazy,” says Neeson, who employs more than 300 locals, many of them former scavengers. “If I come up with a plan, I want to see it implemented within 48 hours. If I see a need, I want to do something about it. You don’t want to see suffering prolonged.”

He sees plenty of both need and suffering.

After decades of genocide and civil war, millions of Cambodians live in abject poverty. Many children are chronically malnourished, and many never even finish primary school. On a late afternoon, as garbage pickers begin to return to their squalid dwellings of plastic sheets, tarpaulins, and plywood, Neeson sets out on his daily “Pied Piper routine.” Navigating a muddy path, pocked with fetid puddles and strewn with trash, which winds among clusters of derelict shacks and mounds of garbage, he picks his way around a squatters’ community. Everywhere he goes, children dash up to him with cries of “Papa! Papa!” They leap into his arms, pull at his shirt, cling to his arms, wrap themselves around his legs. “Hey, champ!” he greets a boy who clambers up on him. “He needs a dentist so badly,” he notes, referring to the boy’s rotten teeth. His charity offers free health care and dental services to the children and their parents.

In 2007 Neeson won the Harvard School of Public Health‘s Q Prize, an award created by music legend Quincy Jones. In June he was named “a hero of philanthropy” by Forbes magazine. (“Well, I finally made it into Forbes,” he quips. “But no ‘World’s Richest’ list for me.”) When Neeson spots certain kids, he hands them their portraits from a sheaf of newly printed photographs he carries around. “I want them to have mementoes of themselves when they grow up and leave all this behind,” he explains. They give him their latest drawings in return.

He stops at a windowless cinder-block shanty inhabited by a mother and her three teenage daughters. The bare walls are adorned with Neeson’s portraits of the girls in school beside their framed Best Student awards.

“I’m so proud of my children,” says Um Somalin, a garment factory worker who earns $2 a day. “Mr. Scott has done wonders for them.” Neeson rescued one girl from being trafficked, another from domestic servitude, and the mother from a rubber plantation, after he had come across the youngest girl living alone at the dump. “We always bring the family back together,” he says. “We help everyone so no one slips through the cracks.” The need is great: Life here can be unforgiving. “This girl has an abusive father. This one here fell into a fire when she was 6. That guy got shot. That one there lost an arm in an accident,” Neeson says, reeling off details.

Then, flashlight in hand, he doubles back down another path – and steps into what seems like a different world. Behind a high-security fence, children sit in neat rows in brightly painted classrooms, learning English and math in evening classes. Others play on computers in an air-conditioned room.

Until recently, the site where Neeson’s new school now stands was a garbage dump. “When I started working for him, I was surprised how much he does for the children,” says Chek Sarath, one of his helpers. “He places their well-being above his own.” Neeson stops by young children who have their eyes glued to a Disney cartoon playing from a DVD. “I miss a lot about Hollywood,” Neeson muses. “I miss Sundays playing paddle tennis on the beach with friends and taking the boat out to the islands.

“Sundays here, I’m down at the garbage dump. But I’m really happy.”

 • Learn more about Scott Neeson’s work

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I was asked this morning, “Maya, what did you take away and learn about yourself when you went to the Louise Hay Birthday Party?”  Although I wrote a piece about the self help movement needing a little self help, I have been cooking on that question ever since, so I thought it would be a good question to look at. Let me start here.

Gypsy “travel” for me is not completely literal.  A gypsy moves when work is needed, when the clan requires better grazing land or when the spirit moves or the authorities require it.  And for me the Gypsy encompasses a life that is set up to offer maximum freedom, space and creative opportunity.  That can be accomplished on the physical level but can also be accomplished on the inner planes.

What I am learning from being “grounded” and not driving at this time, is about the latter:  The space I need to make inside of myself in order to discover what freedom is for me and to allow for the universe to provide ample creative opportunities.  My experience with the party of authors in San Diego has everything to do with making that space.

I had squeezed myself into a belief system before I went to the west coast, as well as into a pair of high heels and a black dress that screamed success…so I thought.  That belief system was based on my preconceived thoughts about self help authors, the self help publishing world and about what it might mean for me to be an author in and amongst these folks.  I felt privileged to be there and feel that the experience was totally invaluable.  But, my preconceived notions went something like this:  A self help author is fully healed, functional, whole, evolved, ego-less, does not play the games, does not care about fame or fortune.  I was wrong. On all counts.

My experience was similar to when I pitched a screenplay in Hollywood a number of years ago called The Necessary Betrayal and found myself swimming with sharks who really did not care about the “heart” of my screenplay only about the distribution rights and the residuals.  Back then, I came to a stark understanding that I was simply…naive.

And I was naive once again with the impressions I had created out of my own mind about the self-help movement.  And my qualifier here is just this:  There are many exceptions to my experience and many authors and self help advocates who are very much my picture of what I want to believe about the self help world.  But they are rare. And for the purpose of sharing what I learned, I want to strip away my own naivete and take a look at what might be true for me …after the fall from my illusion.

What I walked away with, once I had had five hours with my guru’s, was that maybe in fact this is not the tribe I will choose to be part of.  In fact I had to bump up against my own beliefs about fame, money, success and drop back to remembering what I am writing in my book Roadmap to Success:  That success is not the set of strategies, the five year plan, the bank account or the notoriety, but that success is an outcome or result of my life being truly aligned with the essence of my own spirit and who I am.  Then it just might be that the money, the fame and the rest of the bag get’s delivered to my front door.

I have realized that I am not terribly interested in who’s who and if I know them, or whether my book shatters the charts, even though I was so tickled when I figured out how to get Freeing Godiva up on Amazon.  And I am not centrally interested in fame that leads to money, even though I would love to have allot of money.  The essence of who I am is in love with serving the world and helping anyone love more fully, more honestly and more powerfully.  If I can do that then I know the rest will follow in whatever way is congruent with the truth of who I am.

So, I flew home knowing myself better, knowing that this might not be the path I “seek”, or the people I compete with or the folks that become my tribe.  I flew home knowing that I need to be true to what I believe about myself and write about that, talk about that, go where I am called to go and not necessarily know the outcome.  I think that is the essence of the Gypsy.

So, let me close on a humorous note that is in the end…Oh so true!  And I will let the king of self help, Bob Newhart, tell you.

Blessings from the road,  Maya


“Thrive”: The Movie       11-11-11

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