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Wakana Kobayashi, a JICA volunteer to the National Institute of Physical Education and Sport
Wakana Kobayashi, a JICA volunteer to the National Institute of Physical Education and Sport, trains would-be Cambodian PE teachers. Photo Supplied

JICA program for minds and bodies

Approaching its 50th anniversary, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is well known throughout Cambodia for its support in “inclusive and dynamic development” of infrastructure, supported by their JICA Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) program, which provides action on the ground.

The program, globally launched in 1965, has more than 45,000 volunteers with a diverse range of qualifications across 94 countries helping local people, communities and governments to advance their development in a variety of fields.

Cambodia was one of the first countries to receive volunteers, in 1966. Although the program was disrupted for over two decades due to the civil strife, nearly 600 JICA volunteers have since returned to Cambodia to live and work with people in every corner of the country in long-term projects that range from several months to up to two years.

In Cambodia, as in many other developing countries in the world, generations of JOCVs and JICA senior volunteers have worked with people in various sports and physical education. With the belief that sport is not just work of the body, but of the mind, their work has contributed to strengthening the ability of many Cambodians not only in terms of their physical skills but also in their mental and emotional developments. This, in turn contributes to a greater well-being of the society and the nation.

Masahiko Nakamura, one of the first four JICA volunteers dispatched to Cambodia as swimming coach
Masahiko Nakamura, one of the first four JICA volunteers dispatched to Cambodia as swimming coach, with his students in Battambang in 1967. Photo Supplied

Of the first four volunteers who found themselves in post-colonial Cambodia, two were sport teachers, namely in swimming and Judo, who helped Cambodian youths compete in international arenas. The work of these athletic volunteers resonated with the youth sport promotion policy backed by then King Norodom Sihanouk. In recent years volunteer trainers of other sports such as Aikido and football have been working with Cambodian youths, including with the National Youth Team (under-14 players selected from across the country) whose aspiration is to win a gold medal in the upcoming 2023 Southeast Asia Games in Cambodia. Nearly a quarter of the JICA volunteers in Cambodia have also worked to strengthen education in primary schools through teaching sport and physical activity, the importance of which could otherwise be easily overlooked and ignored in the context of Cambodia.

In 2013, the government of Japan launched a new international cooperation program that promotes sport as a means to create a better future for the world. From 2014 to 2020 – the year of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – the “Sports for Tomorrow” (SFT) program will enhance the sports-oriented cooperation activities of Japan, targeting more than 10 million people in over 100 countries. The JICA volunteer program will play a central role in this SFT program by sending out more volunteers to help countries excel in sports and physical education. It is expected that Cambodia’s sport domain, which is increasingly becoming a source of national pride, will continue benefiting from the dedication of passionate Japanese volunteers in the years to come.



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