The Neeson Cripps Academy (NCA), the visionary creation of former Hollywood executive Scott Neeson, is transforming the lives of underprivileged children in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey communities.

An offshoot of the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF), the NCA’s goal is to provide these children with outstanding education and support, with a view to significantly improving their future opportunities.

“With nearly 2,000 students under its care, the NCA is witnessing promising progress, as 60 per cent of these students are now on their way to pursuing higher education and will finish university,” Neeson, the founder and executive director of the CCF, told The Post.

Neeson admitted that the journey of uplifting these children hasn’t been smooth sailing. He cast his mind back to the early days of the CCF, a project he began in 2004 after leaving his successful Hollywood career. He initiated this venture with the purpose of educating children living in the city’s dumpsites. Enrolling them was relatively straightforward, but ensuring they stayed in school was far more complex.

“Parents needed them to work, look after grandparents and younger siblings. They would carry debt of 10-20 per cent interest per month, so CCF had to have the kids there, address each problem with a programme to make it work,” said Neeson.

Undeterred by these issues, Neeson created various support programmes, including a medical clinic, maternal care and housing initiatives. These schemes enabled families to escape poverty’s clutches, paving the way for their children to pursue higher education and university degrees.

“And some of those have taken the families out of here. They go back to their homelands, they buy land. Wonderful! We’ve got 300 now in university, all graduated. That’s amazing for the kids here,” he enthused.

At the NCA, emotional support for students is also a priority. One-to-one sponsorships provide individualised care for children who may have experienced hardship, helping them to feel valued and motivated to succeed academically.

Consider Khim Srey Pov, a 17-year-old 12th grader at the NCA. She joined the CCF at just eight years old, having lived with her father, a vegetable seller at Doeum Kor Market. Through the leadership curriculum, she developed positive thinking, teamwork and problem-solving skills. She aspires to a career in international relations and marketing management and hopes to give back to the CCF one day.

Similarly, 17-year-old Sim Dara transformed his career goal from doctor to institution manager after joining the CCF in 2012. He moved to live with his grandmother at a pagoda in Phnom Penh in 2011. He credits the NCA and the CCF with enlightening his path and transforming his life.

Nicky Ward, head of marketing and grants at CCF, explained the organisation’s holistic approach. Beyond education, the CCF focuses on providing access to clean drinking water and nourishing food.

“Over 500 houses have been built for families, addressing housing insecurities and ensuring a conducive environment for learning,” Ward noted.

In 2009, when the local garbage dump closed, the Stung Meanchey-based NGO began constructing infrastructure for the children and their families. These buildings function as satellite schools, resembling mini community centres. They emphasise education but also serve a broader community purpose.

The NCA also supports vulnerable children outside the CCF through various programmes.

“We’re supporting around 2,000 families in this area through different things and then up to about 8,000 individuals at different points of support around the community,” Ward told The Post.

However, Neeson shared a concerning observation about the higher dropout rate among boys in the community. Currently, about 90 per cent of students attending one of their schools are girls, with many boys choosing video games over education.

Despite financial limitations, Neeson and the CCF are committed to empowering and safeguarding vulnerable children in the community.

“We have a very busy medical clinic, 30,000 patients a year in the medical, no cost. It’s a lot. I would extend forever. I’ve got to watch out for the money,” said Neeson.

The CCF has also ventured into transforming landfill areas into thriving vegetable gardens. But with skyrocketing land prices, this has its challenges.

“Who can afford that? Not for a garden, maybe for a school. Gardens, it’s hard to adjust. I would love to. If anyone wants to give us land, we’ll take it,” he said.

The NCA has emerged as a beacon of hope, guiding the path towards brighter futures and a more equitable society. By offering world-class education and comprehensive support systems, this initiative is empowering Cambodia’s underserved communities, cultivating the “leaders of tomorrow”.