It's 7am and the girls of the Spitler volleyball team are running laps around the court barefoot under the watchful eye of their coach, former Cambodian national volleyball team player Thou Samang, in preparation for a tri-school tournament early next year.
Formed by 22 female students from the Spitler School in March, the team is in a race against the clock to prepare, according to Thou Samang, who is reserved in her hopes for the team’s success.
“I only have a 25 percent hope that the girls’ team will be successful because it’s new. The girls had never touched volleyballs prior to this team. I believe that in the next six months their success rate will improve, but many are still very shy when they practice,” she said.
Only 12 girls from the team will be selected to play in the female half of the tournament alongside another all-male team from the Spitler School, a team whose chances Thou Samang clearly favours.
“The boys are stronger players compared to the girls. At home the boys can be winners for the next tournament [but] the girls not yet because they are new. But I have hope in the future that the girls will win.”
Founded as an NGO in 2005, the Spitler School provides kindergarten and primary education to 500 children from Ang Chagn Chass village outside Siem Reap.
Although an all-male volleyball team has been in place at the school since 2009, coach Chea Sarin explained that he decided to start a girls’ team to promote gender equality and deter students from using drugs.
“Girls have been playing the sport in Cambodia since 1960, but because many women are busy making a living and being housewives, the sport was abandoned. This is the first time in this community that we have a sport for women,” he explained.
Interest in the girls’ volleyball team is widely shared among the female population of Ang Chagn Chass, with even the village chief’s daughter Sen Sao joining the group.
“I love volleyball because it is fun and keeps me healthy. I don’t think I would win against a boy right now because I am weaker, but one day I will,” she said.
Back at the volleyball court, the girls are practicing drills under Thou Samang’s intense glare while Chea Sarin explains why he too is doubtful the new team will be successful overnight.
“The boys are stronger players compared to the girls. I hope the boys can be winners for the next tournament. It’s doubtful the girls will be because they are new, but I hope in the future the girls get stronger and make their families proud of them.”