Film boss leaves Hollywood to help Cambodia's poor

Fri Nov 19, 2010 2:43pm EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Seven years ago a chance encounter with a poor, young girl during a backpacking trip through Cambodia changed the life of Hollywood film executive Scott Neeson.

He was on a holiday from his pampered life in California and eating at an outdoor restaurant when a 9-year-old girl came begging for money. The next night she came back, and he knew she would be there the next day and the day after that.

The studio boss asked where she came from and he was directed to the Steung Meanchey trash dump, outside the country's capital, Phnom Penh, where young kids scavenge for food or items to sell to help them survive.

In no way would the kids ever thrive, he thought, and so Neeson did something to help. He met with the girl's parents, as well another girl and her parents. He got the kids enrolled in school and provided better housing for their families.

"The whole thing for both families was about $80 per month," Neeson, 51, told Reuters in a recent interview.

Why help? He said it was mostly because he could, but also because he wanted to change.

"It was the directness of being able to help, being an A-type personality and having control to make those decisions. It was direct, and I never expected it to be so easy," Neeson said of his first experience with helping children in Cambodia.

Now, the former president of 20th Century Fox's international film division lives in Cambodia, where he moved six years ago. He runs the Cambodian Children's Fund, which aims to give children an education and/or job opportunities that will help break out of poverty.   Continued...

<p>Former Hollywood film executive Scott Neeson is seen with local children who scavenge at the Steung Meanchey trash dump outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in this January 2007 photo provided by the subject to Reuters on November 19, 2010. REUTERS/Norman Neeson/Handout</p>