Education first, football second for star player Sreyda
At ten years of age, Sreyda* left her home in Takeo Province to move to Phnom Penh with her older sister who hoped that ISF’s Catch-Up Education Programme could offer her sibling a chance at receiving a quality education. Sreyda is one of nine children and one of only three to stay in school and not be required to drop out due to extreme poverty. Over the last seven years in ISF, Sreyday has not only beaten the odds of staying in school and pursuing a secondary level education at state school (while holding down a part-time job in ISF’s library) but has also become a football legend among her peers.
Sreyda’s football talent has seen her join the Cambodian national team, get signed with a club in the city and has even led her to travel to the FIFA Moscow World Cup 2018 in Russia where she represented her country in the Cambodian delegation at the FIFA Foundation Festival. But Sreyda takes it all in her stride, ascertaining that her football talent and physical strength has a shelf life while her education will last a lifetime and will be her means to lifting herself out of poverty:
“From what I have seen, most of my neighbors who didn’t go to school have ended up working in unskilled jobs, relying on their physical strength as their main source of income. Their work environments are often dangerous and in general, they aren’t seen as important in society. In contrast, educated people are likely to use their knowledge and skills more than their physical strength. Also, educated people tend to make a higher income, and their work environments are also very different.”
When she started school, Sreyda’s friends encouraged her to try football and join the team. Similar to her teammate Be, Sreyda found that she wasn’t very good at it at first but she wanted to improve and found the youth league was a big incentive, claiming that winning a match at the league makes all the practice worth it and gives girls an opportunity to show their skills and grow closer as teammates. Sreyda reckons that without ISF’s Football Programme, she would not have such an interesting life, she would not be as fit and healthy and she would not have had the education that she’s had. She credits the Football Programme with educating her on how to stay safe and avoid harmful activities in her community such as getting in involved in drugs.
However, in the beginning, her family thought that football would be bad for her health and discouraged her from playing. “They were afraid that if I ran around too much it would negatively affect my reproductive health and that the sun would darken my skin too much” she explains. “Parents don’t have those concerns when it comes to boys playing”. Now, though their concerns have dissipated, as they see their daughter is not only enjoying herself and living an active, healthy lifestyle but that she is making money from her talents and being recognised and respected by others for her abilities: “I think they see I’m building a good reputation for myself and our family when they see me interviewed by TV channels in Cambodia”.
Speaking from the heart, Sreyda would like to see more female players and female coaches on the pitches in Cambodia. “Don’t be scared because it’s okay to be clumsy and not good at it at first, but when you train and try hard, you will become good at it, and your fear will go away” she says, speaking to any potential players out there that want to give football a go but are feeling nervous about it. “I think female coaches are important because sometimes male coaches don’t understand their female players as much as female coaches. Female coaches understand their female players better because they themselves have gone through it before” she explains.
In the future, Sreyda wishes to become a Khmer teacher and has all her goals in place; studying hard and paying attention in class; attending extra classes regularly; preparing to pass the national exams; and going to university. But, in between, there’s always time for football.
*Names of children under 18 have been changed.