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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kep to host tennis tourney

Kep to host tennis tourney

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Big time tennis comes to Kep as the one-court coastal resort town gets ready for an open men’s singles tournament from March 3-6.

“Interest in tennis is steadily growing here and the town is agog with excitement over this tournament we proudly call the Kep Open,” event organiser Sokphal Ngo-Sisowath told the Post yesterday.

Photo Supplied/Phnom Penh Post
Ayravady School founder Sokphal Ngo-Sisowath (centre) poses with young tennis enthusiasts from his school in Kep.

A field of about 26, including at least three players in national team reckoning, is expected to turn up for the competition which carries a modest total prize fund of US$1,000.

“We have only one court in the whole of Kep and that is where this event has to take place. But we have two junior events up and running at the same time for U16s and 8 to 12 [year olds] at the Ayravady School,” said 36-year-old Sokphal, who is the founder and director of the Ayravady School and President of the Ecole Pour Tous (EPT) French language school association.

“It is good news to have a tournament in a place like Kep, which is rapidly falling in love with tennis, and Sokphal has been a source of great inspiration,” said Tennis Federation of Cambodia General Secretary Tep Rithivit.

“He is a good player himself. He has introduced tennis in his school, which basically caters for under-privileged children. He has been a great help to the federation.”

Born in Beijing, Sokphal and his brother moved back to Cambodia with their parents in 1976. After nearly six years of uncertainty, suffering and nomadic life, Sokphal settled down in France where he completed his studies and sharpened up his tennis skills.

“The first time I returned to Cambodia was in 1995. I saw the suffering of the children and almost instantly decided that I had to do something about it. I had worked in many children’s camps in France as a sports and tennis trainer and in 2004 I started this project in a small way.”

However, it wasnt until 2008 that Sokphal had enough money saved to expand the project.

Initially, he had two other teachers to help him hold lesons in a small kiosk near the Old Village. As the number of students reached 64, Alliance Francaise stepped in to help provide 100 chairs and books.

Then came the vexed question as to where the school should be built. Sokphal’s parents let their son use the land they owned in the oldest part of town near the Kep market and the old casino.

The school officially opened on February 3, 2009, after two other associations, EPT and Chaul Rean Taing Os Knea, pledged additional support.

“At the beginning, 139 students were enrolled at the school aged between 6 and 19 [years old]. The first classes were only in French. We had volunteer teachers from France helping us out,” he said.

“But now we have introduced English as well. Soon we will add computer education. Apart from this we encourage sports, arts and gardening.”

“The one project I am eagerly looking forward to is development of sports in Kep. This project is supported by the TFC and its Secretary General Tep Rithivit, and has been a great motivating force,” Sokphal added.

At present, 20 kids from the Ayravady School are going through tennis lessons over weekends and that number, according to Sokphal, is sure to grow.

Anyone willing to support the school by volunteering or giving donations can do so through www.ecolepourtousaucambodge.org.

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