On Saturday morning, 18 January 2012, I was able to join the Happy Football Cambodia Australia (HFCA) for one of their first soccer (football) trainings of the season with Jimmy, Head Coach, Vibol, Country Manager, and Chandara, Coach and Assistant Country Manager. After surmounting a few obstacles to secure a field, including field repairs and a surprise out-of-season rainy downpour the day before, the program pressed on and the season began. HFCA’s team of Cambodian impoverished and orphan youth were able to attend and play in the Homeless World Cup Paris on the Champ de Mars in August 2011. I was able to spend a day with them getting to know some of the youth that went and observing the work of HFCA.
When I arrived, the youth were divided into 4 groups: 16 and up, 14-16, under 14, and the girls. This is because 16 years old is required in order to qualify and play in the Homeless World Cup. The program consists of fitness, basic soccer skills training, scrimmage, and fun. Despite the fact that some of the kids did not have proper soccer gear or even shoes to run in, they were all laughing and running – as if they had no problems or concerns in the world.
The youth come from 5 different orphanages with one driving over 3 hours just to bring their youth to this program on the weekends. Why do they do this? I was told because it is for the kids – it provides opportunity, confidence, and to spend their free time not in the streets but learning a sport and teamwork.
During this time I was able to speak with 2 youth that were able to attend the Homeless World Cup in Paris, and one that went to HWC Melbourne. What was interesting was that not one spoke about future success and opportunity – they all spoke about how happy they were to meet and play with players from other countries and that the most important thing was to bring their experience back to Cambodians. Here is a clip…
It was inspirational to find out that Vibol, as Country Director and volunteer for HFCA, came from humble beginnings as well – and that’s what brought him to support these youth. The stories of what motivated everyone to be a part of HFCA was definitely uplifting, and whether it be to share “football” with the kids or stop the cycles of poverty… everyone shared a common goal – to provide opportunity for these kids.
How do they get to go to the Homeless World Cup? HWC subsidized a major portion of the travel costs. HFCA brought 1 player from each orphanage/organization plus the top 3 deserving youth…and off they went. But “it’s not all about the Homeless World Cup, this [the program providing opportunities for these youth] is what’s important. The Homeless World Cup is just icing on the cake,” said the Head Coach, Jimmy.
I spoke with a representative from one of the orphanages (the one that drives so far just to be there). His name was Sokhom and he was with the Cambodia Kids Foundation. He said he was “happy because kids can learn football. It keeps kids from selling things at market”. He also said that 3 of his organization’s youth were able to attend the Homeless World Cups and that they were very happy.
Very happy was a common phrase that day.
The girls’ team: one ran up to me, said hello, asked my name, and proudly proclaimed she wanted to play football when she grew up. Then ran off to play again. They were all full of laughter and joy.
The Obstacle: Organizations want to send more kids but costs and resources are limited. The HFCA is fighting for self-sustainability, but currently runs on donors, charity-tournaments, and fundraising events. The program can only take care of a certain number of kids and only on Saturday mornings as of now, but the demand for a Sunday program and more kids to participate is growing. The current soccer gear all currently comes from the little budget they have as well as a monthly pick up of donated supplies from local Phnom Penh International Schools.
GlobalGiving InTheField Traveler | Texas
Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.
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