Comcast SportsNet will provide viewers with a two-part documentary entitled From the Sports World to the Third World: A Journey to Cambodia, detailing the amazing story of how two Chicago sports industry veterans — Bulls/Blackhawks/Bears team photographer Bill Smith and Bulls senior director of ticket operations Joe O’Neil— are changing the lives of hundreds of helpless children and their families each and every day in poverty-stricken Cambodia.
Part I premieres Tuesday, November 13 at 7:00 PM, with Part II debuting the following evening on Wednesday, November 14 at 7:00 PM, exclusively on Comcast SportsNet.
“The board of directors of ‘A New Day Cambodia’ is thrilled that Comcast SportsNet visited Cambodia to see our accomplishments,” said O’Neil. “The CSN crew was present as we marked our five-year anniversary since opening our first center. One hundred children who previously scavenged garbage 10-12 hours a day now attend school full-time, speak English and have opportunities that never previously existed. We are excited that Comcast SportsNet will tell our story to help our visibility and awareness.”
From the Sports World to the Third World: A Journey to Cambodia is the follow-up documentary to Bill Smith: Lasting Impressions, Comcast SportsNet’s Emmy-nominated special from 2010 that introduced viewers to Chicago sports photographer Bill Smith and his wife Lauren. In 2002, Bill and Lauren’s life was forever transformed during their annual trip to Cambodia.
During their 2002 Cambodian visit, their guide on this particular trip suggested they “visit the children.” What they witnessed was beyond heart breaking. Families were actually living in the garbage dump; scavenging for items worth pennies, which often totaled to no more than ten dollars a month. Bill and his wife Lauren then, on-the-spot, sponsored some of the young children, got them out of the dump and organized a scenario to send them to school.
Once the Smiths’ friends and family heard about the horrible plight of these Cambodian children, they also did whatever they could to help donate money, but sadly, the children still lived in dilapidated shacks and breathed in the stench of the dump 24/7. The Smiths and two of their closest friends, Joe and Susan O’Neil, partnered to hold fundraisers in the Chicago area to assist more families and children living in the dump with the goal of opening children’s centers where these unfortunate kids could live full time. Over the next several years, the Smiths’ dream became a reality as donations continued to pour in and they were able to form a foundation called “A New Day Cambodia” (www.anewdaycambodia.com) to provide shelter, food, and education to those in need.
However, the story doesn’t stop there. From the Sports World to the Third World: A Journey to Cambodia chronicles the next chapter in Bill Smith & Joe O’Neil’s incredible journey.
This past July, Comcast SportsNet anchor/reporter Chuck Garfien, along with CSN photographer Matt Zickus & CSN associate producer Justin O’Neil, traveled to Cambodia to witness the garbage dump firsthand and then visited Smith and O’Neil in action at the unbelievable ray of light that is the “A New Day Cambodia” center. Garfien and his crew followed Smith and O’Neil as they found four new children living in the dump and brought them to “A New Day Cambodia” to recover, regroup, and – most importantly – prepare for a new positive direction in their lives.
In addition, we get to meet many of the children (who are now well into their teen years) who have benefited from Smith & O’Neil’s unrelenting fight over the past five years to save them from their dark world of despair…to a new life filled with hope and unending possibilities.
BILL SMITH on first witnessing the children living in the garbage dump and his first steps in making a difference: “This is the bottom of the food chain, can’t imagine worse conditions anywhere. It’s hard for us to walk around here for two hours…imagine this is your whole life and you are going to live here for year after year after year. I was told the life expectancy out here is 42, 43 years old. Over half the parents have TB, and a great percentage have HIV. It’s just the beginning of the rainy season. If we came up here in a few more weeks the water would be up to your knees, and you would be walking in slop, floating, and living in it for months.
“It was horrifying to my wife and I. It started out we couldn’t help many kids, but we knew we could help one, so we just decided we would help one little girl, and that’s what we did…she had a sister, so one became two…they had a friend, two became three…pretty soon, we had 22 and they still lived (in the dump). It wasn’t until we formed ‘A New Day Cambodia’ that we were able to move them into the center.
JOE O’NEIL on starting “A New Day Cambodia”: “I grew up in a world where kids grew up playing baseball and soccer and going to school. I have been very lucky in my life, I have been very privileged to provide for my family, and the garbage dump is the worst type of existence I could ever imagine.
“I’ll never forget the day we went out and picked up these children, at these shacks…the girls were waiting there with the little suitcases, and literally the parents said goodbye to their children. And we drove them. We opened up the first center and I think we moved about 15 or 16 kids in the first trip. These kids had to learn how to use a toilet, they had never used showers before, and we had hired a staff here too…we were scared beyond belief.”
Here’s an interview with Chuck Garfien discussing the documentary:
Paul Banks: What do you hope the viewers gain from this? Perspective of course.
Chuck Garfien: Viewers will witness a world that is frankly tough to fathom; children growing up living in the slums of a garbage dump and working there for about 30 cents a day. But then you see two heroes, Bill Smith and Joe O’Neil, who have made it their mission in life to help these children. The impact they have made on each child is remarkable and immeasurable. They go from living in the dump with no hope and no future, to living at the center, going to school, and talking about becoming doctors, lawyers, and teachers. We interviewed one girl who wants to be the first female prime minister of Cambodia. A few years ago, she was scavenging for food in the dirtiest place you could ever believe. Now she wants to lead the entire country of Cambodia. Amazing.
What images and interviews from the trip resonate with you the most?
Bill described the garbage dump as hell on earth. What the world would look like after World War Three. He’s not exagerrating. It’s that bad.
I had never seen anything like it in my life. So imagine living there. Being born into that place, and that’s all you know. But thanks to the efforts of Bill Smith and Joe O’Neil, there are 100 children who grew up into that world, but are now living and going to school at A New Day Cambodia.
We interviewed a teenage girl named Sokha. She was orphaned as a young child, and ended up living on the side of a road with her brother for 6 months. She said they literally slept on the dirt. Her brother later died. She was all alone. Bill found her at the garbage dump and brought her to the center. Four years later, she’s in one of the best private schools in Cambodia, she recently met Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, Newsweek magazine named her one of the top 150 women to watch in the world. The transformation she has made, and frankly, all the children they have rescued from their lives at the garbage dump is tough to put into words. The English language doesn’t have enough of them.
How did the trip change your perspective?
I’ve come to realize that if you are simply born into this country, you’ve won the lottery, because no matter how poor and desolate you might be, you at least have a chance to make something of your life. If it wasn’t for Bill and Joe, these children would have no chance. They live in place surrounded by waste, poverty, violence and disease. There are no thoughts about a future, just trying to scrape by to live another day. The show puts into perspective what really is important in life, and that we all have the ability to make a profound difference in the lives of others.
Here's more with Bill Smith:
How did this come about? What inspired you to do this?
"A New Day Cambodia" evolved from multiple visits to Cambodia while my wife , Lauren and I were trying to adopt a baby from a Siem Reap orphanage. I was annually visiting Cambodia and documenting it's re-mergence in the world after years of war and occupation. When we started the adoption process we visited Cambodia more and I started photographing different areas. There was no inspiration other than humanly trying to help a couple of children that we found living and working on the garbage dump. The power of my pictures and stories of their plight led to friends and relatives offering additional financial help. Through media publicity (mostly the Chicago Tribune Christmas Eve stories) we received enough funding to turn "Bill and Lauren and friends personal help" into a real NGO/charity.
How does it feel to get away from sports and cover something much more important?
Sports photography is my job and travel photography has always been my passion so I was always excited to visit and photograph exotic places. Helping young children living on a garbage dump highlighted the disparity between how fortunate I was compared to the majority of people in the world. It was shocking to learn that in the 21st century, children were starving and living like animals. It wasn't after a plaque or national disaster,... it was just their normal life. The level of poverty I experience shocked and permanently disturbed me. I work in a very high-end, elite world of millionaires enjoying the best that the world has to offer. What I found was the polar opposite of human existence.
What do you hope the viewers gain from this? Perspective of course.
Everyone is aware of poverty around the world. It's really hard to photograph or film the poverty experience and convey the same feelings that affect you when you see it in person. I hope people will watch and agree that everyone is important, everyone deserves a chance to improve their life and that anybody can make a difference in the world. I learned that life takes funny turns, my wife and I were just there as tourist, yet our small effort to help two children, led to a organization that has changed the lives of over a hundred. It has shown me that anyone can make a big difference in the world, compassion and courage are all all it takes. I also hope the viewers will see how much their donations mean to these children and how far a little money goes in Cambodia.
Of all that you saw over there, what moved you the most?
What moved me the most was learning that these grubby, dirty little faces are just like everyone else. When given a chance, they have hope and dreams and the desire to improve their lives and change their country
Viewers are urged to visit a special multimedia video page on Comcast SportsNet’s website, CSNChicago.com: CSNChicago.com/journey_to_cambodia, which will include video footage from the television version of From the Sports World to the Third World: A Journey to Cambodia and “web-exclusive” video excerpts not shown on TV. In addition, CSNChicago.com will provide the full documentary trailer, a photo gallery from CSN’s July visit to Cambodia, an upcoming overview/behind-the-scenes commentary write-up from Garfien, along with a link for viewers to make a donation to “A New Day in Cambodia”: ANewDayCambodia.com.
Produced and edited by Comcast SportsNet’s Sarah Lauch, From the Sports World to the Third World: A Journey to Cambodia will re-air throughout November/December, including these following dates/times: November 18 (Part I at 7:00pm, Part II at 7:30pm), Thanksgiving Day/November 22 (Part I at 7:00pm, Part II at 7:30pm), November 29 (Part I at 12:30pm), November 30 (Part II at 12:30pm), Christmas Eve/December 24 (Part I at 10:30pm) and Christmas Day/December 25 (Part II at 10:30pm).
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too