Monday, May 19, 2014

# 1 Is Scott Neeson the knight in shining armour he presents himself to the world to be?


“You are a voyeur who has the luxury to romanticize a situation that you know nothing about.”

So writes Scott Neeson to me in Sept 2011. Scott is the founder and Executive Director of the Cambodian Children’s Fund.

Sokayn's family dwelling (background) rests on top of a 30 foot pile of decayed and decaying rubbish

Scott’s ‘voyeur’ observation is in relation to filming I had done over the previous few years with a family that worked and lived in the Phnom Penh rubbish dump.

Sokayn's dad, Chuan, and mum, Ka

“Your view that this family had a richer life than you and your community in Sydney is the paternalistic nonsense of someone who gets to fly in, film their hardship, then fly back to the luxuries of home, to pass judgment on those of us who remain here… Having Sokheng (Sokayn) remain on the garbage dump with her family may have fulfilled your vision of a life-lesson on the human condition.”

I had neither written nor implied what Scott suggests here but, as will become apparent, Scott does not allow the facts, the truth, to deflect him from the expression of his self-righteous indignation.

“Sokheng and her family loathed living on the garbage dump – the squalor, ill health, degradation and other conditions you are blissfully unaware of – and wanted nothing more than to transcend that existence.”

On this point Scott and I are in complete agreement.

Sokourn (older sister) and Sokayn at home - 10 square feet of open space with a roof made of plastic sheeting

It is Scott’s next sentence that is problematic:

“CCF gave the children a Western-quality education and provided the parents with a new life back in their homeland. We provided real, tangible help to them.”

The problem with this assertion of Scott’s is that it is simply not true. At the time he wrote it the mother and father of the family, Ka and Chuan, were still working in the rubbish dump. The family was not living a new life back in their homeland thanks to the Cambodian Children’s Fund. Sokheng (I spell her name phonetically as Sokayn) and her sister Sokourn were living in a CCF institution whilst their parents lived in a squalid box that does qualify for the word ‘home’ and earning, between them, $1,000 a year working in the dump.

Sokayn at work in the Phnom Penh dump

In the interests of transparency and in order to allow interested readers to make their own minds up I will publish, in installments, all the correspondence between myself and the Cambodian Children’s fund with the most minimal of editing. This will place Scott’s observation about my being a voyeur in context. And it will reveal, in his assertion that CCF had “provided the parents with a new life back in their homeland”, that Scott was being economical with the truth.

From this one demonstrably untrue statement a whole host of questions arise about the Cambodian Children’s Fund but first, the record how a simple request on my part led to Scott’s calling me a ‘voyeur’ and his playing fast and loose with the truth about providing a ‘new life back in their homeland’ to this exceedingly poor family:

The family's work environment

10th Sept 2011

EMAIL TO PATRICK MC KINLAY

Dear Patrick

In 2007 I met and became friends with a small family living in the Phnom Penh rubbish tip. I was, a the time, shooting a film about Cambodia. In each of my subsequent visits to Phnom Penh I went to the dump with food and a small amount of money to give to the family. And, when Sokayn went to live at Steung Mean Chey with the Cambodian Children's Fund, I visited her there on a few occasions with small presents. This morning, when I went to Steung Mean Chey to give Sokayn some photos that I took four years ago and to find out how I cold contact her parents I was told that I could not say hello to Sokayn and that I could not be told an address where I can contact her parents without your permission. So here I am, on a steamy Phnom Penh morning, requesting your permission to give the photos to Sokayn and to let me know how I can make contact with her parents.

cheers

Sokayn collects plastic bags in the dump for recycling

15th Sept 2011

EMAIL FROM PATRICK MC KINLAY

Hello James,

I’m sorry you've had problems but I hope you appreciate that we just cannot give access to  the kids to people we don't know and who arrive without any prior contact or chance for us to be confident about them. It can cause problems…If you've been reading the local English language press recently you'll have seen that more accessible children's organisations are in the news for all the wrong reasons. You mention that it's 4 years since you were in touch. We'll be happy to pass on the photos to Sokourn and the gift to her parents if you would like us too and we'll make sure too that we get and send you the evidence of this having happened.  

All the best,

Patrick 

Smoke from burning rubbish, including rubber, fills the air all day, every day. Respiratory illnesses are common amongst the 300 or so who work in the dump.

15th Sept 2011

EMAIL TO PATRICK MC KINLAY

Dear Patrick
  
It is not 4 years since I saw Sokayn and her family. It is 20 months. And on each occasion I both visited them at the rubbish dump and visited Sokayn at the centre for five minutes or so. This was in the courtyard with dozens of people around. Exactly how I could possibly be a threat to Sokayn under these circumstances is a mystery to me. Clearly, all the staff at the Cambodian Children's fund centre must be new since none of them recognized me. Sokayn will be 11 years old now and the woman who told me that I could not say hello to her (having told me that Sokayn was there) could easily have asked Sokayn if she knew me and if she'd like to say hello and receive the photos from me. If Sokayn had said no or given any indication at all that I was not the sort of person who should be visiting her, fair enough. However, I think if you asked Sokayn you would discover that I am not a pedophile, mean no harm and that I am a friend of the family.

I have not read the English press in Phnom Penh lately but I can imagine the problems you are referring to. They are real and need to be combatted. However, what you are essentially telling me in this email is that I cannot see Sokayn and that you will not help me make contact with her family - a relationship I formed that had nothing whatsoever to do with the Cambodian Children's Fund.

I can, of course, find Sokayn's mum and dad in another way - presuming that they still work at the new dump. No, I cannot get into the dump myself but I can get a message to them and, perhaps, meet up with them if they so wish. And if they don't, that's OK too - as long as it is their decision and not one made by the Cambodian Children's Fund.

Whilst it is appropriate that the Children's Fund be very careful, such care can tip over all too easily into paternalism. Unless I am reading the subtext of your email incorrectly, it seems that the Cambodian Children's Fund now considers itself to be the guardians not only of Sokayn and Sokourn but of their adult parents as well. This is paternalism, Patrick.

So, I will find Sokayn and Sokourn's mum and dad in another way. A bit more time consuming and complicated but not impossible.

cheers

The plastic bags that Sokayn collects are usually filled with putrid smelling organic rubbish

15th Sept 2011

EMAIL FROM PATRICK MC KINLAY

Hello James,

CCF does take its protection duties seriously and it does look after the children as carefully as it can.  Even sponsors that the staff know don't get access if they arrive unannounced and alone. Likewise with information we might have about parents - their address and so forth - that sort of information is not freely distributed to anyone who asks for it. That is not unusual. We wont give out information about anyone we know or deal with without their say so. 

 All the best,

Patrick


The family income is $1,000 a year

15th Sept 2011

EMAIL TO PATRICK MC KINLAY

Patrick

It would be easy for you to ask Sokayn's mum and dad if they would like me to visit them. It is not for you and the Cambodian Chilren's Fund to take complete and total control of this. You could ask them also (along with Sokayn) if it would be OK for me to visit Sokayn. If they say no, so be it. That is their right. It is not your right to make such unilateral decisions. I am not a sponsor. I am a friend of the family. I met them whilst filming in the dump. I have been filming here for 16 years and I know paternalism when I see it. The family comprises only a very small part of my 16 year record of Cambodia but I had hoped, on this trip to tie up loose ends, to be able to finish this little story within a story on a positive note as it seems to me that the work that the CCF is doing is terrific. Instead, this story must by definition end with my being refused to see Sokayn and the CCF refusing to put me in contact with her family. As I have mentioned, I do have another way of contacting them but will have to do so on my next trip to Cambodia…

Cheers

James

…to be continued



2 comments:

  1. Response from Scott Neeson to James Ricketson

    Postby keeping_it_riel » Sat Jun 14, 2014 7:55 pm
    Scott Neeson of Cambodia Childrens Fund has asked if we would allow him space here on the K440 forum to refute the baseless allegations made by James Rickertson on this thread and so we are happy to post Scott's words unedited:

    Hello all,

    I have avoided responding to the postings of James Ricketson as such people thrive on limelight. Mr Ricketson’s claims are completely false – and verifiably, beyond-doubt false – however as is the nature of media, accusations leave mud on the those attacked, no matter how ridiculous the claims.

    SEE THE LINK

    ReplyDelete
  2. http://www.khmer440.com/chat_forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=38333&hilit=scott+neeson

    ReplyDelete