Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The young Cambodian escaping poverty using the beautiful game

The young Cambodian escaping poverty using the beautiful game

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Seeing the positive impact football has had on his life, Tith Sovannara aims to provide young children from marginalised communities the chance to also experience the transformative power of football. Photo supplied

The young Cambodian escaping poverty using the beautiful game

Tucked away in a neglected slum area near Boeung Kak Lake, a young aspiring football coach is harnessing the power of sport for social empowerment and to improve the lives of some of the nation’s poorest children through his charitable project Play To Progress.

Play To Progress is the brainchild of Tith Sovannara, a 23-year-old Cambodian who grew up with little education and few prospects in one of Phnom Penh’s slums.

As a boy from an impoverished background, Sovannara himself has been gifted opportunities he would never have usually enjoyed as a result of the beautiful game.

Today, through the support of several NGOs, he has managed to earn his Asia Football Confederation ‘C’ coaching certificate – the first step in the long road to becoming a professional football coach.

Seeing the positive impact football has had on his life, early last year Sovannara set off on his year-long mission to provide young children from marginalised communities across eight Cambodian provinces the chance to also experience the transformative power of football.

“I have worked with communities in eight provinces – including Kampong Spur, Kampot, Takeo, Svay Rieng, Kandal, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh."

“I’ve travelled to Kampong Spur province more often because it is not far from home and I can travel on my own motorbike."

“With the longer rides, I need to catch a bus and a motodop just to reach the area, and sometimes I even have to rent a tuk-tuk to carry my football equipment and donations of notebooks, pens and bags for the children, which are provided by friends and NGOs,” he says.

Sovannara usually travels alone, and most recently he went to the Banteay Meanchey province’s Sophie Primary School to coach more than 200 children.

“I use many means to spread educational issues through sport. For example, before I go to a community, I research to find out what issues they are facing. I then raise these issues with the children and discuss it with them,” he says.

Sovannara added that he currently funds the project through his own pocket, but hopes to establish his own NGO in the very near future to make his work more sustainable and expandable.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Sovannara has managed to earn his AFC ‘C’ coaching certificate – the first step to becoming a professional football coach. Photo supplied

“I plan to access poor communities in twelve provinces as my target and then I will start fund raising to start my own NGO,” he says, adding that he hopes to have established the organisation within four months.

Sovannara traces his inspiration for founding Play To Progress to March 2012, when the then 17-year-old first met philanthropist Sean Landau, who would visit the local slum he lived coaching a handful of players with one ball and sticks for goals in the sandy remains of what used to be Boeung Kak Lake.

At around the same time, Sovannara received support from Empowering Youth in Cambodia (EYC) who helped him with literacy and numeracy, as well as allowing him to learn English.

“Since childhood I’ve loved football. My parents got divorced when I was 11-years-old; my mother was a tailor and my father was a policeman. They did not allow me to play sport because they said it was a waste of time and demanded that I instead work for money by collecting plastic,” he says.

Struggling to cope with a turbulent home life and disinterested in school, Sovannara says that it was EYC and football that turned his life around.

“I didn’t want to study and I almost dropped out of school in grade five. But then I encountered EYC and I played football through them. But their one condition was that I had to continue studying if I wanted to play football, so I decided to go back to school,” he says.

In 2018, Sovannara’s work led him to be nominated for a Beyond Sport Global Award, which celebrates, supports and provides funding for sporting initiatives around the globe that positively contribute to making the UN Global Goals for sustainable development a reality.

He was the only Cambodian candidate among 400 people from 33 countries at the 10th Beyond Sport Foundation awards ceremony in New York, the US in September last year.

To find out more about Play To Progress and support Sovannara’s charitable efforts, you can visit his website (www.playtoprogress.org) or his Facebook page (@playtoprogress).

MOST VIEWED

  • Reports: Rainsy barred from Jakarta flight

    Sam Rainsy was on Wednesday refused entry to a flight from Malaysia to Indonesia, media reported late on Wednesday. The “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party’s announced return to the Kingdom on Independence Day on Saturday failed to occur. Rainsy

  • Phnom Penh International Airport wins award as passenger traffic soars

    The Phnom Penh International Airport has been awarded Best Asia Pacific Regional Airport 2019 for its sustained high growth in passenger traffic in recent years. The award was presented by the Capa Centre for Aviation (Capa) – a world-leading and trusted organisation that provides market intelligence to

  • Government studying EU’s preliminary report on EBA

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Wednesday said the government was studying the EU Commission’s preliminary report on the human rights situation in the Kingdom that could lead to a suspension of access to its “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement. The

  • Gov’t: Rainsy’s ‘coup plot’ a failure

    The government on Wednesday commended the Kingdom’s security forces for thwarting the attempted “coup plot” by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy through his announced return to Cambodia on November 9. The comments came as Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue

  • PM responds to Rainsy ticket claims

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday expressed frustration over claims by Sam Rainsy that he had altered Rainsy’s ticket with Thai Airways to prevent him boarding his November 7 flight to Thailand, from where he had claimed he would enter Cambodia. Hun Sen made the

  • Chinese tourists lead international visitors

    Chinese tourists again topped the list of foreign visitors to Cambodia during the first nine months of this year, with the Ministry of Tourism on Wednesday reporting a 30 per cent increase on the same period last year. The Kingdom received 4.81 million international tourists in that