Written by Amra Naidoo
Edited by Sing Suen Soon
In Battambang, Cambodia, there is an organisation that provides girls as young as 14 with the chance to participate in the world’s most popular team sport: football.
It may seem short of extraordinary, yet, to many girls and young women in Cambodia, playing football creates a whole new narrative for them. Widely regarded as a sport for boys only, the opportunity challenges gender stereotypes that continues to structure the Cambodian society.
Behind this initiative is SALT Academy, who have been empowering Cambodian girls since 2006 by using football as a vehicle for positive change. The game promotes friendship and team work, providing under-served youth a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion and personal success that contribute to a safer place for women and girls.
“SALT Academy gave me the opportunity to become educated, to gain leadership skills, to access university, to dream of a higher career and better future and to become a role model for the community,” says former beneficiary, now full-time staff member and Program Manager, Linda Choeun.
“I joined SALT because I wanted other girls to follow my steps, I wanted them to see in me what the future may hold for them. I am passionate about football and I believe that it is a powerful tool that can speak to anyone no matter the gender, age, religion, or culture. It helped me to be the strong and independent woman I am today. Today, I want to be an actor and take this program further”, she adds.
Linda Choeun is one of the many success stories from the SALT Academy’s Mighty Girls program, which has a four-prong approach to providing training opportunities to young women and girls who find themselves at-risk of negative social patterns. They do this by: providing a safe space and safety net for at-risk girls; increasing the quality of education and encouraging girls to complete their education through extra tutoring and support; increasing access to quality football training; and facilitating mentoring, leadership training and outreach activities.
Reflecting on how she ended up at SALT Academy, Linda shares, “As a girl in Cambodia I know exactly what obstacles girls have to overcome. The society is still so gender oriented and girls have so little opportunity to have the life they want. When I was a girl I experienced pressure from my family to get married. I was only 15! I think I always wanted to work to improve the lives of women and girls in Cambodia and I found a way by working for the organization that helped me”.
According to SALT Academy, Linda’s situation is not uncommon. “Cambodia is deeply rooted in restrictive and hierarchical culture and is rife with gender issues. Gender inequality in Cambodia is still palpable, causing girls and women to be undervalued, discriminated against and eventually underrepresented in all aspects of the civic society.”
“Correlated with poverty, particularly obvious in rural areas, girls and women are highly at risk of violations of their basic rights. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia with 52% of its population aged under 25 years old, shifting the financial responsibilities onto children. In this light, girls are particularly at risk of negative social patterns, such as human trafficking, early marriage and domestic abuse and rarely occupy leadership positions in society”.
SALT Academy’s unique solution to tackle these issues is unconventional, but it has worked. They have come to support near 50 at-risk girls, and are looking to support more young girls through sport so they can pave safer future for them.
How can you create positive change today? Support SALT Academy and their Mighty Girls program as they compete in the Project Inspire semi-finalist crowdfunding stage of the competition. Every donation counts as a vote to get them through as a 2016 Finalist. Head to www.projinspire.com to make a difference now.