Six youngsters from Battambang province will travel to Brazil next month to experience the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as part of a team formed by an NGO that aims to use football to improve the lives of impoverished children.
The three boys and two girls from the Sport and Leadership Training (SALT) Academy will spend 10 days in Rio de Janeiro with their 21-year-old coach to represent Cambodia at FIFA’s Football for Hope Festival on July 2.
The children will compete in a mini World Cup and attend a quarter-final match while coaches and delegates will partake in a series of workshops and discussions on AIDS/HIV prevention, children’s rights and life skills.
“It’s unthinkable, I felt so excited when I got the news I’d been selected to go to Brazil,” said Mao Savin, 21, a team coach who joined the academy in 2010.
“My family was very poor and I often had to look after my siblings when my parents went to Thailand to work because we didn’t have enough land to farm on.”
She will be traveling as the coach of the team picked by the NGO.
SALT Academy was set up in 2006 with the aim of using the sport as an agent for social change in the region, with a particular focus on young girls who are at risk of sex trafficking, child marriages and domestic abuse.
The organization runs a SALT Academy League that involves a total of 98 football teams across Battambang, Poipet City and Pailin province.
Cambodia will be one of 32 delegations from all over the world attending the Football for Hope Festival. One component of the festival will involve performing a traditional dance as part of a cultural showcase for the other delegates.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for all of all them, especially when you think these are children from poor rural backgrounds in Cambodia,” said Laura Richards, communications coordinator for SALT Academy.
She added the trip, which is paid for in full by FIFA, will include food, transport, kit and accommodation in Rio.
Ms. Savin is part of the NGO’s select “Mighty Girls,” who visit rural communes in Battambang and Pailin, introducing the game to young children while also giving classes on issues including sexual health.
After finishing her studies at the Dewey International private school, which is paid for by the academy, Ms. Savin said she plans to study in the U.S. before returning to Cambodia to continue coaching girls in football.
“I am lucky I was born with these football skills,” she said.
“My life has completely changed. I have learned how to speak English, how to use a computer, have the chance to go abroad and I am now a coach.”