Education and football give Be the tools to build a better life
Sixteen-year-old Be, an only child living in a poor urban community of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, joined ISF’s Education Programme in 2011. From the onset, Be was interested in playing football but knew that girls from her background typically don’t play sport. However, with encouragement from her teachers, Be joined ISF’s weekly after-school training sessions shortly after commencing her education.
Looking back on the moment she joined the Football Programme, Be remembers the other girls as being better players than her. But, that didn’t deter her. Instead she decided to train harder and concentrate on catching up and even surpassing her peers. However it wasn’t as simple as just working hard at training. Getting permission to attend training was the problem. Her parents didn’t believe that girls should be playing football as female inclusion in sport wasn’t, and still isn’t, widely accepted in Cambodian society. Again this didn’t deter Be and she told her parents she was attending English classes when she was really sneaking in football practice.
But thankfully, those days of hiding football are over for Be as her talent and commitment has led her to be respected by her peers and her parents. A skilled midfielder and goalkeeper, Be plays on the ISF U18 Girls’ Team and competes in the AIA-ISF Youth League. When she initially joined the league, she felt nervous and the first time her team lost a league match she cried. But according to Be, these emotional moments are all part of the game and have taught her and her teammates resilience. “After crying about that first loss, I hugged and consoled my teammates, telling them that failure is a lesson learnt and a common thing on the field” she says. Be regards the weekly league matches, even when there’s losses, as opportunities to showcase her strengths.
Through her pursuit of football, Be believes she has received many opportunities that have bettered her life such as building strong friendships with her teammates, improving her general fitness, health and well-being and travelling abroad (for the first time) when she joined the Cambodian national team in a competition in Indonesia in 2018. However, the most significant opportunity that football has offered her is the ability to make informed decisions and choosing a life free from drugs and crime which she identifies as a problem in her community. Regular training, competitions and tournaments help Be and her teammates stay focused and committed to their sport, helping them to stay clear of problematic societal issues such as gang violence, gambling and drug and alcohol abuse. “Some of my friends are using drugs and if I didn’t have football I think my life would be the same as theirs now. I would’ve probably become a drug addict like them and ended up committing crimes to pay for my addiction” she explains.
When discussing the recent Goldman Sachs Gives ISF Girls’ Tournament, Be stated that its existence matters because “if the Boys’ Tournament is important then so too is the Girls’ Tournament”. Girls and boys should be treated fairly on and off the pitch and given the same opportunities” she adds. Be wants others to experience the positive aspects of football that she’s enjoyed and has already set her sights set on becoming a football coach at ISF when she finishes her education. Her determination and drive has earned the support of her parents who no longer view football as a boys’ sport and now wish her all the best in reaching her goals. Be is already on the path to achieving her dreams and has just started training and working part-time with ISF as a referee.
Here, at ISF, we’re proud to share Be’s story and promote education and sport in communities marked by extreme poverty; empowering female players to challenge gender stereotypes and discrimination, providing opportunities for personal development, peer-to-peer education and mentoring through coaching. Our research in local communities demonstrates that there is significant will and interest from girls to play football but that poverty, domestic expectations, cultural traditions and stereotypes prevent their participation. Through our programmes, we aim to increase girls’ access to competitive sport and to build brighter futures just like Be has.
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