In January the Bopha School Project delivery team reduced to a single person: me. As a result my husband Adam jumped on board, but this meant we’d also need to take out 8 year old son to the jungle school. Now, as part of the crew, I asked Reid what he wanted to bring to the table for the kids who wouldn’t be attending the Bopha Menstrual Hygiene Education. His reply was one single word: football. Hence Bopha School FC was born. (Side note: two of the original members of the Bopha School team did end up coming so it wasn’t just the 3 of us in the end).
Using money raised from the Bopha School of Rock Night (organised and played by Stewart Woodward and played by bands; SAS, Stiff Upper Lip, Jagged and hosted by Strings on the IOW, we printed two sets of football kits. One for our original Bopha School, Sebabromok Miyasita Primary School and one set for the Preah Trapang Primary School, our Jungle school.
On March 25th Our little mini bus bounced down a dint track, past a sleepy monastery and into the dirt yard of a white washed school. This was Sebabromok Miyasita Primary School, the original Bopha School Project site where last year we’d constructed a double latrine, provided water purification systems and delivered the menstrual hygiene educatioN. The school children, who recognised us by now, came running out to stand and wave and grin.
Phea and the team unloaded the football shirts And laid them out on a table under the shade of a tree, I had a poke around to make sure the toilets and water tower were still in good working order. I also wanted to catch up with the female teacher who we’d worked with last March to deliver the education. By the time I was finished, Phea and Reid were ready to Hand out the kits and the school children were chomping at the bit to receive them.
Siem Reap is the poorest province in Cambodia. Cambodia is the poorest country in South East Asia. These kids are the children of tapioca farmers and have nothing …yet when they got their kits on and got onto the pitch they were the stuff of gods and kings.
So proud - and they totally should be.
So cool (despite the 40 degree heat).
And they didn’t even bat an eyelid when we said “get training boys … because tomorrow we bring the other Bopha School team for our first ever tournament.”
After a few matches with the team from the first school, we got back onto the mini bus and took a long, hot, bumpy, pot-holed journey into the jungle (so remote that guides refused to come and even google maps doesn’t pick up the place) we arrived at Preah Trapang Primary School. One year ago when we sourced this school, there was nothing but the compound: a dust yard where a couple of the kids were playing marbles.
One of the first things we did when we arrived was to build them goal posts with nets. Our pro Bopha Engineer, Jonathan knocked up a complex and detailed blueprints of the build, then children dragged lengths of wood / tree trunks out of the jungle and eventually the goal posts were erected. Once they were up, Phea assembled the boys so that kits could be distributed to the team.
Kits were handed out and the team were told that they’d be playing their first ever match the following day.
Sunday arrived. The heat was intense.
We’d arranged the match at the first school to kick off at 4pm. At 3pm the children from the Jungle School (Yellows) arrived on motorbikes and little tractors, headed straight to their new football pitch and practiced.
At 3.30pm the Bopha Team, the Jungle Yellows and a couple of excited teachers crammed into the mini bus and we drove to the first school, Sebabromok Miyasita Primary.
The two teams playing have only ever played football by kicking cans on the the dusty yards at their schools, yet when the first question they asked when we assembled them on the pitch was, “Do we play hard or soft?”
Phea said, “Somewhere in the middle.”
The game started calmly and there were some good passes and formations, but after Blacks scored two goals in the first half, the energy of the game shifted dramatically. Passions ran high and there were a few handballs and high kicks (we’re in kickboxing country here). Yellows scored early in the second half and then again on a penalty.
They smashed in a final goal in the last minute, sealing the win for Jungle Yellows despite some incredible saves from the Black keeper.
Once the game was complete, Jungle Yellows were cheered and then the two teams shook hands. They lined up and were presented with their winning trophy. They were blown away and both teams were eager to know when the next match would be happening.
The final prize was presented to Man of the Match on the losing team. Reid chose the boy that had been in goal in the second half (who’d also playing well in the first half as a defender). Once the trophies had been given we got both teams to mingle, stand together and have a photo taken in front of the setting sun.
Side note: Phea explained to the boys that at the next match, the trophies should come back and they’d be presented to the next wining team and best player.
OUTCOMES: From marbles in the dust to team sports.
1. Two neighbouring primary schools now have kits, goals, keeper’s kits and gloves, footballs and trophies to continue practicing, improving and playing football.
2. Two distinctive teams with identity and new bond
3. Experiences of team sports and good sportsmanship
4. Boosted morale for teachers and community
5. Two seperate communities / schools brought together
6. Improved fitness, drive and determination to succeed and evolve.
Originally when we had come up with the Bopha School FC idea, we had envisaged the teams being mixed sex. The girls in Cambodia are just as passionate and ferocious football players as the boys. Somehow, in the communication, this had been lost and therefore only the boys had been selected for the teams.
Phea and I are now going to liaise with the schools and have them pick their girl’s teams. We will then provide them with more kits and support them in setting up the LADIES Bopha School FC.