A Different World in Phnom Penh
August 15, 2014. Coach Kelly Conheeny is with us in Cambodia for the start of her CAC experience. Everyday in Phnom Penh my heart grows a little bigger, beats a little faster, and sometimes I feel as though it stops completely. It grows when the intellectually disabled child wraps his arms around me at the end of the futbol session; or when the deaf 40 year old futbol coach tells me in sign language with a beaming smile on her face that she is happy to see me. It beats faster when I see a 5 year old disabled child with powder on his face and utter joy in his eyes as he slaps my hands and runs off to share his enthusiasm with the world. And although every bit of this experience has brought me extraordinary joy, there are also the days I lay awake at night thinking about the children that walk around the streets at night collecting cans and money for their families.
Two weeks ago today I was packing my backpack to set off on a new adventure, working with Coaches Across Continents; unsure of what exactly the future would hold for me. Little did I know how much different life would be for me seven days later…
We have done a lot of on the field work and off the field work this past week with one of our partner programs called the IndoChina Starfish Foundation (ISF). 31 coaches and an incredible staff of people lead by Leo, the Chairman of the ISF football committee; whom all of the kids adore. From the education system at the two ISF schools to the quality of coaches and leaders I have interacted with over the past week, I have been thoroughly impressed with the opportunity ISF has created for these young men and women. One of the recruiters at the school gave us a tour of the children’s communities after we paid a visit to each classroom in the ISF school system. It’s difficult to describe how I felt walking past the homes that these children come home to everyday. One community is built in a graveyard, surrounded by trash and leaning wooden homes, held together with rope, scraps of metal and tin roofs. The other community, was infested with flies and rotten food; Little children walked naked in filth, digging through the garbage and wandering aimlessly through the wasteland that surrounded them. Visiting the surrounding communities that many of the ISF kids live, gave me an even further appreciation for the work Leo and his team has done over the years.
On the field this week we played all different games of futbol for social impact. We focused mostly on gender equity, conflict resolution, health and wellness, and using our voice. Circle of friends was a great way for the coaches to get used to using their voices and every morning when we play it, laughter fills the air. It was especially entertaining when Nick asked me to show the coaches how Americans dance, the shimmy is now my defining dance move for CAC. An extremely memorable session for me was when we travelled to Leo’s Soccer Roos under 10 team on a field with a tree in the dead center of the pitch, outside the school yard….Plan B…. After a couple of warm up games, we played a game called Ballotelli for Gender Equity, a game that questions traditional male and female stereotypes in your community. 80 boys and girls stood in front of us and stereotyped both boys and girls. After the game we separated the boys and girls and asked them each to run in place, like a girl would run. The boys impersonated a “girly” run by flailing their arms while giggling and exaggerated a slow, clumsy strut. When it was the girls turn to “run like a girl” they ran like themselves. When we asked both groups to run like boys, the boys picked up their knees faster and higher and looked more intense while the girls’ run didn’t change at all. The game opened up a powerful discussion about gender inequality in Cambodia. The girls all left the session with smiles on their faces after hearing Nora and Nick go to bat for them. One of my other favorite sessions this past week was our session with the deaf and disabled. The field was silent aside from a couple of chuckles every so often, and the smiles were beaming with joy. We went around the circle to introduce ourselves in sign and played a couple of games focusing on communication through eye contact and hand signals, as well as an energetic game of handball at the end of the session.
My first week with CAC was an incredible success. I am learning from my incredible staff members Nick, Nora, Graham and Francis who all have a gift for coaching and are incredibly passionate about making a difference in communities around the world. It seems that everyday here is more rewarding than the next. It is in experiences like these that you plan on teaching young kids how futbol can change a community, and they end up teaching you more about life than you anticipated.