SALT Academy was founded in 2006, and today reaches over 5’000 youths and 1’000 young adults across the three Northwestern provinces of Cambodia: Battambang, Poipet, and Pailin. We thrive to empower young male and female leaders through sustainable community-based football programs which combine sports coaching with LifeSkills workshops, vocational training, and community engagement. We have chosen to work with football because it provides a forum where children’s rights to play can be reconciled with the need for gradual, grassroots change in local Cambodian society.
The idea for SALT Academy resulted from an isolated incident and deep reflection. When in Cambodia, Sam Schweingruber – the founder of SALT – had his helmet stolen as he was chatting with a friend on the side of the road. Upon confronting the thief, Sam realized that the young man was under the influence of drugs. This stayed in the back of his mind as he returned to his native Switzerland and considered what might be done to help Cambodian youth development today.
Eventually, he decided to take matters into his own hands and do some of the work himself at a grassroots level. The Sports and Leadership Training (SALT) Academy was hence created to reconcile his desire to engage with the Cambodian community and his background in football.
Cambodia has suffered much over the last few decades, and it still suffers the repercussions from the past today. A significant majority of the population is under 21, shifting financial responsibilities onto children and young adults. This is an especially prominent problem in Battambang, where the average wage is less than .50 US cents a day, much below the internationally recognized absolute poverty line of 1.25 USD. As a result, young people rarely complete education, instead needing to become wage workers or to marry early. In this light, girls are particularly at risk of negative social patterns, such as human trafficking and domestic abuse.
It is with this in mind that The SALT Academy was created – to use football as a tool to impact change in the community. As Nelson Mandela once said, “sport has the power to change the world”: it does not only speak to youth in a language that they understand, it can also create empowerment opportunities by broadening horizons. As such, SALT Academy believes that the young leaders we help empower are the future of Cambodia, and that the tools we give them have the power to make development more sustainable.