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Friday, October 12, 2007

Oregon Coast Winery Owner Makes a Difference in Cambodia


Nehalem, Oregon) – One Oregon coast businessman is making a world of difference in a small town in Cambodia, and he’s offering others the chance to help out as well.

It’s much more than charity for the tiny village of Chheneng, in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia – an impoverished place populated by the Pnong, an ethnic minority that suffered much under regimes of the last century in both Cambodia and Vietnam. The village has no running water or electricity, and they have little to eat on a regular basis, mostly foraging in the jungle for food.

Nehalem’s Ray Shackelford has been helping out with donations and strategies that have given them a means to help themselves – much more than just a handout. Along with Shackelford, a man in town known as Elephant and his brother-in-law Sen Heng, villagers have built two schools, another well for the people, and a sewing shop that is helping them on their way to self-sufficiency.

Shackelford owns the Nehalem Bay Winery on the north coast and the Depoe Bay Winery on the central coast.

Shackelford first met Elephant in 1992 – a man whose birth name is Chan Kem Lang. At the time he was a bicycle taxi driver. “I have seen him – and helped him – go from being a driver to this year getting his bachelors degree,” Shackelford said.

Heng heads up the construction projects, while his wife - Sen Ratanna – teaches the villagers how to sew.

Over those years, Shackelford has poured around $30,000 into helping the village in various projects, which includes helping them to buy property, building the new well, and creating some bathroom facilities. One of the schools cost $800 to build, and the other $700 – unbelievably cheap compared to such costs in the west. Together the schools teach about 60 children.

The sewing shop creates small, beautiful handbags, backpacks and wine bags, made from a silk-like fabric of bright colors and a hint of iridescence. These are being sold at Nehalem Bay Winery and the Depoe Bay Winery, allowing the public to help these people.

This last trip, Shackelford was able to hand them $1500 from the bag sales – roughly 15 times the amount of money the entire village might have at any one time.

The bags run $15 to $25, and all proceeds go to the villagers.

In the past, Shackelford has purchased some rice for them to eat, and acquired seeds for a garden project so they can grow better food for themselves.

“The schools were built with local materials, like bamboo and coco wood, and all the work was done by parents and teachers,” Shackelford said. “The well was dug by experienced diggers. But wow, what a bad job that is. Can you imagine digging a 39-inch by 39-inch square hole in the ground, about 25 or 30 feet deep, by hand, and pulling the dirt up with just a bucket? Tough and dangerous.”

Chheneng is actually divided up into the new one and the old village, and each has a school for the first time in their existence. “The old one is about seven kilometers off the highway, and the highway is kind of a joke,” Shackelford said. “Really, it’s just a bad road. In the rainy season it can only be traversed by water buffalo and a cart, or by walking with mud up to your knees. In July I was able to ride it with a motorbike, but not now.”

The school at the new village teaches only English and has students from 6 years old to 14. The older village school holds kids grades 1 – 3, and teaches their language of Khmer.

Shackelford spends much of the year traveling all over the world, exploring and tasting new things, like a sort of Indiana Jones for the north Oregon coast. On his adventures, he has personally grabbed some international interest in the plight of the Pnong. Chatting with a pair of Dutch teachers in Berlin, Germany, he got them to donate some money. His son in Texas helped out financially, as did some of those attending his 50th high school reunion recently.

Shackelford also plans to help create an orphanage overseas in the near future.

The bags will soon be available for purchase on the winery's website, www.nehalembaywinery.com .
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Uncertainty for an Orphan Claimed in Two Adoptions

In the summer of 2003, an heiress with a flamboyant lifestyle decided to devote herself to saving Cambodian orphans.

While she was in Cambodia, starting an orphanage on the Mekong River, she became enchanted with a toddler known as Rath Chan — “rath” means “orphan” in Cambodian.

Now Rath Chan, renamed William, is caught in a dispute between the heiress, Elizabeth Ross Johnson, and Lionel Bissoon, a celebrity weight-loss doctor with whom she was having an affair. They are no longer a couple, but both claim to have legally adopted the child.

Yesterday, a judge invalidated an adoption Ms. Johnson obtained in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court a year and a half ago, because of adoption papers in Cambodia, including a revised birth certificate naming Dr. Bissoon the boy’s father, according to Dr. Bissoon’s lawyers. The judge, Kristin Booth Glen, is the same judge who initially granted the adoption. She allowed the child to stay with Ms. Johnson.

The judge has ordered her decision sealed. But Dr. Bissoon’s lawyers agreed to talk about it because, they said, it was extremely rare for an adoption to be vacated.

Bonnie Rabin, one of Dr. Bissoon’s lawyers, said the judge had found that the adoption in Manhattan had been “procured by fraud,” because, among other things, Ms. Johnson failed to tell the court that Dr. Bissoon considered himself the child’s father.

The judge ruled that Dr. Bissoon had adopted William first, in a “full and final” adoption in 2004 in Cambodia, which Ms. Johnson had ignored when she adopted the child in New York, the lawyers said.

Last night, Ms. Johnson issued a statement through a spokeswoman, Marcia Horowitz, saying she was devastated by the judge’s decision. “The surrogate court’s decision setting aside an adoption that the court had granted last year ruptures my relationship with my son, whom I have loved and raised since infancy,” Ms. Johnson said.

She said that the decision ignored the “deep bond” between her and the child, and that she would immediately appeal.

Ms. Horowitz said the child, now almost 5, would stay with Ms. Johnson during the appeal.

Robert S. Cohen, Ms. Johnson’s lawyer, declined to comment yesterday. But during court proceedings, Ms. Johnson’s lawyers argued that there had never been a Cambodian adoption, that if Dr. Bissoon had arranged anything, it was only permission from the Cambodian government to adopt the child. They said that whatever he did, he did to help her adopt the child, and that he challenged the New York adoption only because he wanted money. Ms. Rabin acknowledged that Dr. Bissoon had asked Ms. Johnson for child support.

Dr. Bissoon said he did not want to take William away from Ms. Johnson, but wanted joint custody. “I’m the only father he has,” Dr. Bissoon said after learning of the judge’s decision. “I want him back in my life.”

He said he had not been allowed to see William since December 2005, when, he said, Ms. Johnson “staged” a fight with him and threw him out of her apartment at 1 Central Park West, in the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Ms. Johnson’s spokeswoman denied that Ms. Johnson had provoked a fight. “They parted ways,” Ms. Horowitz said.

Dr. Bissoon said the prospect of seeing the child again was “a thrill,” but added that he was somewhat bitter. “When you think of what we’ve gone through, not sleeping, sometimes not even wanting to go to work,” he said, “I guess the best nights I’ve had is the nights I would dream about him.”

Ms. Johnson and Dr. Bissoon became romantically involved in February 2003, Dr. Bissoon said. A month earlier, he had been profiled in People magazine as the doctor who helped the singer Roberta Flack lose about 40 pounds through mesotherapy, a treatment that involves injections of medications.

Ms. Johnson, now in her 50s, had been married five times, had four children of her own, led a jet-setting life as a socialite, philanthropist and traveler, and had been romantically linked to a string of celebrities, like the singer Michael Bolton, the hairdresser Frédéric Fekkai and Jerome Jeandin, a chauffeur at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. She is the great-granddaughter of Robert Wood Johnson, a founder with his brothers of the pharmaceutical empire.

Dr. Bissoon, 46, is an osteopathic doctor with offices on the Upper West Side, in Los Angeles and in West Palm Beach, Fla.

On a trip to Cambodia in June 2003, according to an affidavit filed by Dr. Bissoon in Surrogate’s Court, Ms. Johnson called him to announce, “I found your son.” Although they had never discussed adoption before, he said in an interview, she told him that the boy, Rath Chan, looked just like him.

She was working to establish her orphanage, Golden Children, on a 17-acre site east of Phnom Penh. According to an Internal Revenue Service filing, Golden Children had assets of $8.8 million in 2005. The filing lists Ms. Johnson as president and the socialite Anne Bass as vice president.

Cambodian adoptions were growing in popularity around the same time. But Ms. Johnson was not the best candidate there because of her age and the fact that she already had children. In addition, the United States had restricted the immigration of Cambodian infants because of concerns that they might be sold.

Dr. Bissoon said the immigration problem, along with opposition by Ms. Johnson’s family, had led to an elaborate plan for him to adopt the baby in his native Trinidad. But the plan fell through, he said, because Trinidad frowned on adoptions by single fathers.

The baby was brought to the United States for medical reasons, according to Dr. Bissoon, who said he went on to file adoption papers in Cambodia and to put his name — but not Ms. Johnson’s — on the baby’s revised Cambodian birth certificate.

After the romance ended in the summer of 2004, Dr. Bissoon continued to visit the child at Ms. Johnson’s apartment three to six days a week, he said, until Ms. Johnson banished him in December 2005. She then went on, he said, to adopt the child in New York without telling him.

Dr. Bissoon said he had not seen William since he sneaked into his preschool on his birthday in January 2006. But he said he did not think the boy had forgotten him. “Children don’t forget that easily,” he said.

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Cambodia forms authority to probe oil reserves in Tonle Sap Basin

The Cambodian government has created the Tonle Sap Basin Authority to conduct a study on possible oil reserves in the great lake area for interested private investors, local media said on Friday.

The authority was established to manage the Tonle Sap Basin and coordinate future oil and gas projects with the international partners, said Tao Seng Hour, deputy president of the Agricultural and Rural Development Council and president of the new authority.

"The authority will do studies for oil exploration" in the 16,000 square kilometers stretch surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake, he was quoted by English-Khmer bi-lingual newspaper the Cambodian Daily as saying.

"We will make sure that there is no pollution," he added.

In March this year, Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his opposition to the Tonle Sap Basin being designated a World Heritage Site, saying that fishing and extraction of oil and mineral resources might be constrained as a result of its protected status.

In 1997, the lake and the surrounding floodplain were designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which established zones with different levels of protection and development, but also permitted natural resource extraction.

Source: Xinhua
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