Recently Kampuchea Balopp has partnered with Enfants du Mekong to develop a rugby program with their boys and girls aged between 18-26. It represents another step in the right direction as we continue to expand our reach and expose more Cambodian youth to the benefits of structured sports coaching and personal development.
On Sunday 1st June, Kampuchea Balopp had a initiation rugby session with Enfants du Mékong held at a artificial pitch near CamCo City in Phnom Penh. There were 30 girls and 30 boys aged between 18 to 23 years old involved. The Kampuchea Balopp coaches took the youths through their rugby basics, but incorporating fun physical exercises and basic rugby drills. As a result of the trial session, Enfants du Mekong has now confirmed they will run a weekly program with Kampuchea Balopp!
We spoke to Helene de Feluc (Human Training and Extra-scholar Activities Manager) and Jean Luc Grzegorczyk (Centre Coordinator) who are based at the Phnom Penh Centre Docteur Christophe Merieux for Enfants du Mekong. The organisation works with thousands of children in Cambodia at various other centres, but this centre in unique and was set up with funding from DR.Christophe Merieux after he passed away.
The centre enables the children to complete their studies in languages (English and French) and IT. With over 180 youths aged between 18-26 educated at the centre and housed nearby, the kids have worked hard to get this far as over 300-350 write their high school exams to gain entry but only 40 get through each year and are accepted to study at the centre.
The centre also had a alumni program for graduates who help the younger students and also get involved with sports activities and keep a link with the school. The biggest percentage (around 40%) of graduates gets jobs in the field of ITC. Lot of girls aspire to become teachers and most students come from more remote areas of Cambodia.
On the involvement of Kampuchea Balopp Helene told us they were looking forward to having “involvement every week and present something new for them and to improve in sports, as they enjoy sport and physical activity but they have never played with a coach who can help develop them”. Jean Luc added he also wanted the kids to “ to get involved on a regular bases and to work together and play together as there are values which they can learn and apply when they join companies after their studies. I think that rugby can bring them the idea that without playing together without team work and the team spirit you can not go forward…. in rugby you can’t play alone to move forward.”
Discussing the benefits of using rugby as a tool for youth and sports development in Cambodia, it seemed an alien idea. Jean Luc said “When you working with a NGO you are always thinking about how you arrive in a new country and not imposing your own culture. For me rugby was more or less a culture from outside or a western culture. I noticed they(Khmer youth)were playing ping pong, volleyball etc so rugby was a idea from outside. But when I saw what Kampuchea Balopp was doing I realized there were benefits I noticed for our students. When Kampuchea Balopp proposed the program I thought it was good to give the students a consistent program they will stick to and try it together and see the results”.
Some of the students were hesitant about playing a sport that was relatively unknown and Helene said at first they were hesitant as they thought it was a game for “big people, big muscles and white people but when they played in training they learned to tackle and I asked the coaches to give them specific instructions, like with the girls have games but the boys show them what is the sport of the rugby and they(students) were very surprised and one student told me, wow I never saw a game like this, I want to play rugby! I want to learn how to not hurt people and improve my body physically, to play without getting hurt.”
Helene went on to say that some of the kids were afraid as they had experiences of being hurt or injured in other games and sports or if they they had glasses they thought they were not strong enough and could not be involved in rugby. But many students did the initiation training and were very happy with the introduction to rugby. “The girls played a lot of games, and they like playing games! And they asked when they can play again. I explained that it will be every week and its more difficult for them them as may come to school by bicycle and they think they might get too tired. But others asked to play more and if we can show them its not dangerous and they can improve and not be tired all the time they want to commit.”
Kampuchea Balopp asked them if they thought the youths would stick with rugby and want to form a team to play competitively or just the weekly planned sessions? Helene told us ”I think for the boys they want to play the game as a team next season and they already asked when is the first match and first competition so they want to be involved! The girls will be more difficult, but if we can help them and train and play together they will be very happy to play as a team after a while. They had soccer/football sessions before and after 5 months formed a team and they were very proud and built good team spirit. The values of rugby they already know.”
Before we left the centre one of the young male students popped by, Misa and told us how much he enjoyed the initiation sessions and how to learn to tackle and play rugby. He added “ I like Balopp (rugby) as it will increase the amount of exercise and regular training will improve my health and we can play as a team. The coaches were good!”
We hope that our coaches always inspire the kids they train, as they have played for the national Cambodian rugby team which has enabled them to travel abroad and meet people of varying cultures and background. Mesa discovered rugby for the first time through Kampuchea Balopp and at first thought it could be dangerous but now he thinks its great and he is not afraid and wants to keep playing!
The Enfants du Mekong boys and girls will train weekly on Saturdays with Kampuchea Balopp.