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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Volleyballers show their triumph over landmines

Volleyballers show their triumph over landmines

he Cambodian National Volleyball League players and their advisor, Chris Minko, at Phnom Penh Airport on October 7 on their way to the Volleyball World Cup for disabled players in Greece from October 11 to 19.

The Cambodian National Volleyball League team flew to Greece on October 7 to compete

in the Volleyball World Cup against other physically handicapped squads from Germany,

Slovakia, Greece, the United States and Poland. A "friendship match" will

be held in Berlin after the tournament in October against members of the German parliament.

"The trip is to increase awareness of landmine problems in Cambodia," said

the German Ambassador to Cambodia, Helmut Ohlraun, about the physically disabled

team. "The team not only represents sportsmen, they increase awareness about

the landmine problem." The German government donated $7,000 to the team this

year.

The Cambod-ian national team, ranked first among ASEAN nations, will make its sixth

international appearance after competing in Slovakia, Australia, Thailand, Singapore

and Korea since 2002. It took the gold medal in an Asia Pacific regional competition

last year.

Although the team is Cambodia's only international-caliber volleyball team, it is

unusual in another way. All of the players are missing limbs or have disabilities

due to land mines, bullet wounds and other injuries.

But they consider themselves volleyball players first and disabled athletes second.

Keam Sokha, 40, who is a setter for the team, said the sport is a way to "change

people's perspective about handicaps". He stepped on a landmine in 1984 and

now wears a plastic prosthetic leg. But that has not stopped him from excelling at

the sport

"I train hard every day," he said.

Yim Vanna, 36, who is from Kandal province and has played volleyball since 1988,

said that he has won the regard of people who might have otherwise thought less of

him.

"Normally other people look down on disabled people," he said. "Being

on a national team, people respect me."

The players receive between $30 and $60 a month, which includes transportation and

housing before competitions. They use advanced prosthetics such as hinged legs and

rubber feet to perform the complex maneuvers of the game. The team trains six days

a week for four hours each day at the Kien Klaeng National Rehabilitation Center

near Phnom Penh.

The league's director, Chlok Chamroeun, 23, is a graduate of the National Institute

of Management in Phnom Penh. She manages the team and makes sure they are well-equipped

and healthy.

"I feel very happy and proud to help the disabled," she said. "When

they get together, they have fun and forget about their disability."

The server prepares to send the ball over the net at the Kien Klaeng National Rehabilitation Center near Phnom Penh where the tournament was held.

Chris Minko, 48, an Australian who advises the league, said he is enthusiastic about

working with the players and the volleyball program.

"They are excellent ambassadors for Cambodia," he said. "The volleyball

players give others hope."

The first incarnation of the team was the Veterans International Cambodian Disabled

Volleyball Team in August 2002. It became an independent league on October 1 of this

year. Their goal is to become the Cambodian National Volleyball Federation by the

end of 2005 and enter the sport's international body for disabled players.

The team draws players from all over Cambodia during an annual tournament for handicapped

players held near Phnom Penh. The Royal Government of Cambodia endorses the league

along with a host of sponsors, including Handicap International Belgium, the Japanese

and German governments and a number of businesses.

One fundraiser, Mark Duncan, an officer in the Hong Kong Police Force, plans to climb

seven of the highest mountains on every continent to support the team. He donated

$20,000 for the team's trip to Greece and supports an organization called Climb for

a Landmine Free World. Keam Sokha, a landmine amputee and one of the players, will

also accompany Duncan on some of his ascents in 2004 and 2005.

The German government sent a university coach, Kevan Naylor, 25, to train the league

in August and he will complete his tenure following the tour in Berlin. He said that

disabled players were as good as any he had taught before.

"I trained them like I trained able players," he said.

On October 23, the league will go to Berlin and play against the German members of

parliament after a promotional tour through Germany.

Thomas Gebauer, the director of a German anti-landmine NGO, has helped organize the

match. He said "there could not be better representatives".

"The team shows to the world that reintegration of landmine victims into society

is not only possible, but that landmine victims can also play an important role in

the recovery of peace and the society itself," he said.

A player goes for a spike.

Yi Veasna, secretary general for the National Paralympic Committee of Cambodia, came

to Phnom Penh International Airport on October 7 to see the team off for Greece.

"I think that the team is very happy," he said. "I see them smiling,

and they have good expectations. The game will bring friendship, solidarity and will

raise awareness for the rehabilitation sector."

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