• 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.


    students at ISF often come from this neighborhood

    Kelly smiling with her new friends

    Kelly smiling with her new friends


  • Kampala: Intercultural Understanding

    April 15, 2014. In our 2nd week in Uganda Nora and I [Markus] faced totally different circumstances than in Mbarara, on-field and off-field. We arrived in Kampala on Sunday afternoon and got accommodated in a hotel right next to the US embassy, so we felt safe 🙂 The hotel was simple, but very nice. After one week without running water and a “western” toilet the shower we both took immediately after we arrived felt like a Christmas gift.P1030270

    In Kampala we cooperate with “Soccer Without Borders” (SWB), an organization that is serving and educating the refugees who live in Kampala and come from all different countries surrounding Uganda. Uganda functions very much like a melting pot for all the people who try to start a new life far away from their war torn home countries. So we worked with coaches from Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda and faced a multicultural setting on the field. Due to these circumstances we needed to translate our games always into a French-Swahili mixture to make them understandable to everybody. But differences in ethnicity don’t cause social exclusion. We experienced a very inclusive atmosphere where people are practicing intercultural understanding day by day.

    The coaches responded very well to the Skills for Life games and were excited to practice Ronaldo, Marta and Balotelli skills every day. These activities improve the football skills of the players as well as encourage them to concentrate, communicate and raise awareness for their surroundings. During our sessions we worked also on HIV/AIDS awareness and played “Condom tag”. It’s a simple tag game where the player with the cone represents the HIV-Virus and everybody he/she tags is “infected” with HIV. During the game the rules get adapted and some players represent condoms where the others can rescue themselves from the taggers by standing next to them. That is one of our games that help to start a conversation about good decisions that help us to stay healthy and protect ourselves from getting HIV. After we played some HIV/AIDS education games the participants mentioned the importance of this topic and we had a very fruitful conversation.

    P1030282I coached this week for the first time 95% football. It went very well and the coaches understood my explanation very quickly. This game doesn’t need a ball. The ball is represented by the player who has his/her hand on their head. The ball can be passed on by shouting the name of a teammate and removing the hand off the head. The other player puts his hand on the head and can score by running through the goal. The ball can be taken away from the possessing team by tagging the player with the ball. The coaches enjoyed this game very much and I was impressed by the fairness of the two teams. Usually the rules have to be adapted, because one or both teams are either positioning their strikers or defenders rights in front of the goal line which makes scoring impossible. Not so much with these teams. 95% football is a brilliant tool to make the players understand that football is 95% smart thinking, quick decision making and constant readiness and only 5% skill on the ball.

    On Thursday we had our Child Protection Policy session which caused some very good discussions about different forms of child abuse that are present in this community. For us this time of the week is very important, because children are suffering abuse from their coaches all over the world and children are the most vulnerable members of our society. The awareness of the coaches about the importance of protecting the children rights impressed us. We spoke about one case in particular where one coach asked if it is the girls fault when she got raped after she was dressed up in a mini skirt and sitting with opened legs. In the following discussions we pointed out in the group very clearly that it is never the girl’s fault and that it is the duty of us adults to educate our youth about potential risks and consequences of our behavior.P1030337

    Friday is usually our coach back day. We didn’t have one last week in Mbarara, because we only had four days due to weather. So it was my first time experiencing how coaches that we worked with for a week adapt and teach CAC games. At the same time it gives us coaches the opportunity to slip into the role of a participant. We get the coaches together in groups of two or three and started with a very creative adaption of “Circle of friends”. We experienced some very advanced versions of Skills for Life games as well as a brilliant adaption of “Adebayor Makes Good Choices”. We hope that all the coaches keep up their good work and be as creative in their daily work as they have been when they were adapting CAC games. We thank SWB for their wonderful hospitality and cooperation and wish them all the best for their future work that their devoted service may help many refugees in Nsambya to find hope and develop their future in a foreign country far away from home.