• 90 Trained Social Impact Coaches in Cambodia’s Capital

    August 26th, 2014. Coaches Across Continents has concluded its second week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, working in partnership with IndoChina Starfish Foundation (ISF).  ISF is primarily an educational program which runs two schools in the capital serving to accelerate the education of children from nearby slums to a stage where they can be assimilated into the state education system.  It has evolved, however, to provide a more holistic social development role including health and welfare services, outreach work and income/employment enterprise for the children and their families. The organization is funded primarily from Australian benefactors and sponsors, and promotes football for boys and girls as one of the many strands of its education program.
    Coaches Nick, Nora, Francis, Kelly and Graham continued into the second week of the program with around 90 young coaches from ISF and other NGOs based around the capital.  The age of the coaches ranges from 14 to over 40.  Included in the mix of young men and women are a group of 13 coaches from the Deaf Development Program of Cambodia.  These coaches have brought with them an extra and enriching dimension of fun, enjoyment and challenge to the week’s activities.  Focus of the week’s football for social development program has been on gender equality, health and wellness and conflict resolution.  These have been delivered in extremely hot and humid conditions but where the energy of all involved has been high and laughter and play has pervaded right across the field.
    Cambodia is a desperately poor country, with significant numbers of people living in slum communities, particularly in the urban areas.  CAC visited one of the ISF schools and met many of the children in lessons who were fascinated to see on world maps where we had travelled from to be with them.  In turn we were greeted by eager demonstrations of their English language skills and beautiful artwork.   On leaving the school we visited the slums which were home to the children which had only just presented us with drawings and paper flowers.  Most of us had ‘experienced’ slum conditions across other continents, but the conditions in Phnom Penh were as distressing as those we’d seen in Africa and India.  In one community tiny, timber and tin shacks on stilts (to raise above the invested pools of stagnant water and trash below) were built within an abandoned cemetery with tombs all remaining in place.  It was humbling to recall that the great young coaches we have been working with on the field day after day returned to these or similar conditions day after day.
    One particularly inspirational example of the success of ISF has been the development of coach Srey Mau, who began her career as a cleaner at the school but through boundless energy, personality and selflessness has become a key coach in the organization and has embraced the CAC program with great energy and enthusiasm.  In doing so she has stood out as a shining example of the positive work and opportunities ISF and CAC are delivering together.




  • 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


  • Rwanda – Solve Your Problem

    August 14, 2014. Four incredible weeks in Rwanda working with Football for Hope, Peace & Unity (FHPU) were capped off in the capital city of Le Pays des Mille Collines. The finale of the program, Play for Hope: Rwanda20, took place at Dream Team Football Academy with coaches from teams and organizations around Kigali.

    All four of our trainings in Rwanda were centered on introducing the various groups of participants to our methods of using football as a tool for education and social impact. But as we do in all of the countries and communities where we work, we had to ensure that the curricula for each program were suited to the needs of the community and our partners. And in the case of Rwanda, this meant connecting our games to the country’s history and the ongoing reconciliation process.

    As we mentioned in our first blog about our programs in Rwanda, the people of this country have a hunger. And it is not the type of hunger we encounter in many other African countries where we work, which is often a hunger for aid and a dependency on western influence. In Rwanda, it is a hunger, a yearning, for development, for progress that comes from within. Twenty years ago, the West failed this country, and Rwanda is not about to let that happen again. They – the government and the people together – are taking steps to build local capacity, to develop local resources and create an identity for Rwandans separate from outside influence. And it is working.

    Our experiences traveling the country with FHPU directors, working with over 300 coaches and teachers from all over the small nation, allowed us a unique lens into the field of development that is absolutely sweeping over the thousand hills. As part of our program we played our Peace Day games with each group and had a special focus on the topics of peace and reconciliation during our final week in Kigali. When we played Peace Day – What to Do When Faced With a Problem, some incredible discussions came from conflicts that arose during the game. At one point (as always) somebody made a mistake and another team accused him of cheating. Our coach stopped the game and asked, what’s the problem? It was clearly a misunderstanding of the rules which was a great teachable moment because it showed us how quickly a situation can escalate to conflict without stopping to understand the cause of the problem in the first place. We talked through the issue and the participants involved were laughing and hugging by the end. This event led right into a fruitful discussion about the causes of the genocide, how to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and how to solve our problems peacefully. Another noteworthy aspect of Rwandan society today is that many of the perpetrators of the genocide are living amongst the people, working, living, and eating with families whose relatives they murdered. As outsiders we cannot pretend to understand the complexity of that relationship, but we can respect the strength and resilience, and work with these coaches to further their peace-building efforts. And with us that means a football is in play.

    We also learned during this time that the widespread understanding of what went wrong in 1994 points to corrupt internal leadership as well as the failings of the West – specifically the influence before and the absence during the genocide. Having knowledge of these factors we were able to provoke situations in games that led to discussions about these important issues. It is known throughout that CAC lives by the words – solve your problem. This simple statement is so much more than three words suggest, and this is especially true in Rwanda. “Solve your problem” means don’t wait for me – your coach/teacher/parent/adult – to solve it for you because you – the player/team – can solve it yourself(ves). Rwanda has already adopted this notion largely because of what happened in 1994, when they looked to the countries who were supposed to help, and those countries turned their backs. Never again. Rwanda will now solve their problem the Rwandan way, and they are doing it every day.

    We are proud to be even a small part of this exciting movement in this beautiful country working with the wonderful FHPU, and we can’t wait to see what the newly trained social impact coaches do next. The Peace Day games discussed in this article are part of a bigger initiative for the International Day of Peace on September 21st – look out to see what happens in Rwanda next month!


  • Rwanda: Remembering the Past But Looking to the Future

    August 6, 2014.  Francis Davin joins CAC On-Field for four weeks in both Rwanda and Cambodia. He writes about his first impressions and the final Rwandan program in Kigali with FHPU and Dream Team Football Academy.  

    The Rwandans are an amazing people. Everywhere I go I am met by smiles and very respectful attitudes towards me the strange white guy.  A country still recovering from the wounds of the genocide in 1994 is rebounding forward with embrace for foreign culture and a new found unity.   By trying to look at the future whilst not forgetting the past all the people I have met have a renewed attitude that they can look at the positive things in life now and appreciate them more.

    Whenever I travel around with a Rwandan colleague and bump into a stranger to ask for information I’m shocked to find out they are friends already as they laugh and joke and finish talking with a hand shake and a good bye. Then when I ask how they know each other I find out they aren’t actually friends but everyone just talks like that with each other now – everyone treats each other as friends.

    It seems the past segregation and division between Hutus and Tutsis and the killing of over 1 million of the population now promotes a new era of friendship and togetherness.

    Simple things are the best things here, no one worries about making sure their tan is the correct shade or that they must watch the latest episode of that new TV show, an old used tire is the greatest play thing for a kid (after a football of course!). It puts a lot of things in perspective very quickly and makes you appreciate what we have in our world.

    The happiest moment I saw so far was a group of 20 or so kids with clothes they have clearly been wearing for months, being given a soccer ball to play with. Instantly teams are formed and a game with sticks in the ground for posts is under way. I remember the amount of player’s soccer balls I have in my car that have been left behind at a practice in the US and think how the kids here in the streets a would treat them like diamonds.

    Hearing the stories of what happened during those 100 days from genocide survivor and ex professional football player Eric upsets me and makes me continue to worry for a species that can instantly turn and kill each other’s friends based on radio announcements, propaganda and perceived differences in the shape of someone’s face.

    But all that history here creates a motivated culture that will never let it happen again has united everyone to move into a brighter future.  On the field the enthusiasm is second to none. The coaches want to learn and want to improve and take part in anything with so much energy it’s infectious. On Tuesday we spent a long morning on the field and wrapped up about 1pm to head back into the coolness of the hostel. At 4pm we arrived for an evening visit at an orphanage in a village 30 minutes away only to find a coach we’d worked with all morning volunteering his time to help out there.

    On the final day we had coach backs which was a chance for the coaches to try out the games with teams of local kids while we watched. As we arrived early as usual (thanks Didier for your wonderful driving) we found coaches arriving and forming a group. Before we even said anything they had organised themselves into 3 groups, including a time keeper and logistics expert in charge of cones and balls, and were coaching our games!  Self-directed coach backs! Nora was incredibly happy. Marcus being the German said it was all part of his Vorsprung durch Technik plan!

    At the end of the week following all the photos and certification awarding I asked a coach what he would do with our training. He said “I came here to learn how to coach but also to teach the players I work with to be better people.  It’s difficult to just tell them to be good, treat people well and be smart with their choices. Instead I look forward to teaching them with football games that they enjoy”

    Before I joined CAC I knew what the idea of self directive learning and using football for social impact meant, but I didn’t realise the impact would be so profound, direct and resonant.  I also admit to being surprised in a good way by the beauty of Rwanda physically and culturally. When I left I took a piece of Rwanda with me – a new outlook on life and an adjusted perspective will enable me to prioritize and promote peace and hope above all else and a new point of reference for my life.