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My Internship at SALT – Anna

After 10 weeks in Battambong Cambodia, I have finished my internship at SALT Academy. Looking back, I can gladly say that SALT Academy gave me this great opportunity to work in a warm-hearted and welcoming environment.

I am currently studying at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences following the course of Sports Studies. In my current second year of study I got the opportunity to do an internship of 10 weeks anywhere around the world in any sports associated organisation. Due to my interest in the field of sports for development I applied to SALT Academy Cambodia. Surprisingly, I received an answer to my online application on the same day I sent it out. Starting from the first contact, the local and the international staff took great care of my stay in Battambong and my project at the organisation.

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For this internship I was in a supportive position to develop a tailored so-called “Life-Skills handbook”. Based on a very supportive and trustful supervision on spot I got the opportunity to introduce new original ideas for the content of the upcoming handbook. In addition, I got to join SALT Academy’s football events where I was given the task to plan and monitor side activities for the participants. The work with local staff was a lot of fun as well as challenging due to language barriers. However, these small challenges made it even greater to experience simple things like: seeing small kids from small communities playing the activities I have created and hearing discussions that I have come up with which were translated into Khmer. It made me very happy that everything worked out in the end and the participants enjoyed the events.

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I always felt kindly welcomed by all the local staff and I had a great time with them not just in the office but also outside work with for instance birthday dinners and day trips. The participants at SALT always welcomed me with big smiles, hugging me and were always curious and asking questions.

I am very thankful for this big opportunity of working in Cambodia with SALT Academy. I met many great and inspiring people and the kind and caring connection to SALT Academy’s staff made my stay in Cambodia a great success. Thank you very much!

Anna Bischoff

Reflections – Chiara

I started my experience as a volunteer for SALT Academy on the 4th of January. My main tasks as a volunteer were to conduct Monitoring & Evaluation data collection about the Mighty Girls Program and to contribute to monitoring reports, conduct English classes for the girls and to run individual interviews and focus group sessions with members of the program. The data was useful for SALT Academy and also for my Masters Thesis, which investigates the effectiveness of the program in empowering young Khmer girls.

It was my first experience living in Asia and the first weeks were quite difficult – settling in a new environment and understanding the local culture. Cambodia, as a developing country, cannot offer the same standards in living conditions that we are used to in the West, but Battambang is the perfect kind of city where it is possible to live the real Cambodia in comfort, where the rhythm of life is both relaxed and simple.

It is probably for those reasons that I found that Cambodian people and the local lifestyle are incredibly heartwarming. The genuine relationships that I had the possibility to build with some of SALT staff members and the Mighty Girls is something that is not possible to find in my country of origin. Facing Khmer culture with its pros and cons was a challenge in the beginning of my experience that ultimately allowed myself to adapt to a new culture and environment, immensely expanding my mind. For me, living here meant huge personal growth in terms of my professional flexibility, empathy, personal challenges, testing my limits, improving my ability in relating with people from different backgrounds, and an overall mind-opening experience.

For example, sharing time and experiences with the Mighty Girls taught me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to study, work and live in “optimal” conditions (where education is encouraged and even mandatory). Here, not all youths have the support of their families – higher-level education is not seen as fundamental as it is in Italy and the West. Often, parents prefer that children work and contribute to the family’s finances instead of going at school or play. That is why it is so admirable how these girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, thanks to SALT Academy’s work, have the opportunity to find themselves and explore their potentials. They need new role models to look up to, but what surprised me was the fact that, while I was supposed to teach them, they progressively became my own role models for their motivational skills, hope, sense of commitment and the idea that is always possible to reinvent yourself – no matter which situation you come from.

Joining a volunteer experience with SALT can positively influence the life of both the beneficiaries and volunteer her/himself. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that improved my mindset for the better and positively impacted the way I interpret the world. Dedicating your time to SALT Academy is an enriching experience that I will never forget.

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Chiara and our Mighty Girls Program Coordinator, Linda, share an infectious laugh during one of the girls’ friendly games.

The Beginning of my Stay

My name is Anna Bischoff and I am an intern at SALT Academy – since the beginning of February 2017. In my first week, I got a lot of opportunities to get to know SALT, the kids they are working with, and the town of Battambang where I am staying. On the third day of my stay I got to teach English to some ‘Mighty Girls’: 21 Mighty Girls stay together in a house and share their daily lives with each other. There is a great atmosphere in this house since they all share one passion: football. In my English lesson we had a lot of fun together, they even sang “Happy Birthday” for me since it was my birthday on that day – which was an awesome start to my internship. On top of that, they gave me little sweets and were very curious about where I am from and what I am doing. It felt great to come in such a warm and welcoming atmosphere as it is in the house of the Mighty Girls.

The fearless Mighty Girls

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The following day I got to see a match between the Mighty Girls and a local boys team. From the start the girls wrecked the boys, which, to me, was a completely new scene. I remember my own football matches when all the boys watching us from the side laughed about us girls playing football. Here, in Battambang, I experienced the complete opposite. I sat with some of the older girls on the side and for them it seemed like a comedy show: how the girls beat the boys, seemingly without much effort. The girls easily sidestepped them, they dribbled and juggled the ball around them which made the boys seem disoriented and lost between all of these talented girls. The girls watching the game had a great time making fun of the boys and supporting their Mighty Girls. This was amazing to see, since girls in Cambodia are often not treated equally. Seeing this dominance of girls’ strengths showed me the great impact SALT already has achieved through their football based development work. Unfortunately, I must say that the boys got to turn the game in the second half but the girls still fought until the end and did their best.

 Fieldtrip

The next week, I got the opportunity to see where the Mighty Girls come from and where they go back to on the weekends. SALT Academy started the initiative to not only support the girls but also support their families. All together we went on a big truck to drive into the communities where the girls’ families live. Going on this long journey was fun for all the girls. They took a break from their daily routine and went on a long ride together. There was a vibrant atmosphere since everybody was excited, making jokes, singing, laughing and taking lots of pictures together.

Due to the long distances we had to travel, we went to five families that day. It was really nice to see how thankful the families were about the simple present of some cooking ingredients. The girls thankfully and with a lot of respect received a blessing from the older family members and happily left behind their presents.annapiclast

On the way back we stopped by the famous Banan temple. Due to time limitations we were not able to go up the hill to the temple but many girls came to me and proudly told me about their traditions and the temple.

I had a great start here at SALT Academy, I am blessed working in this team and to get the opportunity to dive into the world of development through sports.

National Children’s Day Festival: a moving insight into SALT’s community outreach activities

By Maddy Boston –

Last week I was invited to tag along as the Mighty Girls and SALT staff held a football festival to celebrate National Children’s Day. The day began early at 6:00am with climbing into the back of the SALT truck with 15 of the Might Girls, all dressed in their matching purple uniforms. After driving through rural Cambodian countryside for two hours, we pulled into a schoolyard where hundreds of young kids, both boys and girls, were eagerly waiting for us. Seeing them all standing together before beginning to play was entertaining. Messi jerseys bumped against school uniforms that brushed against pajamas; cleats stood next to sneakers that lined up behind flips flops and bare feet. The outfits of course didn’t matter, and only added to the “everyone’s invited, just come play” vibe that made the day so enjoyable.

When all the equipment was unloaded, the Mighty Girls jumped into action. I apparently missed the conversation where they learned what to do; perhaps there wasn’t one and they’re just little professionals, because their leadership skills were immediate and seamless. They spread out into four groups to conduct four different soccer drills: one focused on dribbling, another on passing, another on shooting, and one on movement off the ball. A fifth was dedicated to educating the local kids on their rights as Cambodian citizens, and gathered in a circle under the shade of a tree. Each of the soccer drills was a competitive game, which quickly caused the little kids to squeal with uncontained excitement when their team got a point or won a round. Every single kid was smiling; it didn’t matter if they could dribble two steps without the ball bouncing away from them, or if they managed to get any points in the last drill.

My favorite part was watching this one group do the passing station game. Here two teams lined up and competed to see which team could get the most points by passing a ball to knock off another ball balanced on a cone some 5 meters away. The team closest to me had about 5 boys and 2 girls. It quickly became apparent that one of the girls was the best at knocking off the ball, thus gaining her team points. As the clock wound down and their team began to lose, the boys started asking the girl to cut them in line so she could earn them more points. She racked up point after point, each time causing all the boys and the other girl to throw their hands up and cheer. By the end everyone was laughing and frantically trying to get more balls so the one girl could carry their team to the win. It worked- their team ended up beating the other line. Seeing her surprised, sheepish expression, as the older boys on her team yelled and patted her on the back, was awesome.

I wanted to volunteer at SALT because I’m interested in sport for development, specifically how soccer can be used as a tool to address gender issues in communities around the world. I’m motivated by a lifetime of playing soccer myself, recognizing the immense ways it’s shaped who I am today, and wanting to share the experience of playing with girls who might not otherwise have the option.  Stories like that one of the girl in the passing drill are just little examples of what sports can do in communities on a larger scale. Sport is not only an activity for fun, competition and play, but also a space through which other social barriers can potentially be overcome. The barriers that stand in the way of girls participating in sport are more complex than their gender, and include multiple discriminations that cross race, class, religion, ability, sexuality, and more; gender is just one piece of the puzzle. But the fact remains girls are more than twice as more likely to drop out of sports by adolescence, and are overwhelmingly underrepresented in sports leadership positions across the globe.

This is important. Playing sports and doing other physical activity has been proven to have a positive impact on overall physical and mental health. Statistics have shown physical activity reduces the rate of young people engaging in dangerous behavior, such as unsafe sex and drug use. Furthermore, through sports girls experience better mental health, more confidence, improved teamwork and communication skills, increased graduation rates, and refined leadership skills that can lead to better opportunities in school and in the workplace.

Looking at 400 responses from a EY Women Athletics Business Network and espnW survey that made the connection between women athletes and leadership, 74% said a background in sports can help accelerate a women’s career; 66% believe that athletes make excellent candidates for jobs because they’ve developed a strong work ethic, can be a team player, and have the determination to be a great employee; and 75% stated that competitiveness is an asset to their leadership style in the workplace. Considering the financial and cultural implications of having more successful women represented in the workplace, the impact of this alone is enormous.

Even when girls have access to good sports programs that provide a platform for them to succeed, it’s important for them to see positive role models in their every day life that motivate them to stick with the game. SALT has a great local staff, and many are girls that have come up through the Mighty Girls program themselves. They’re examples of what the girls can be if they work hard and stick with the program. Even though I’m only here for a short time, I am excited to add my story to what the girls will see as possible. Already the questions have come asking what it’s like to play soccer at university in America, how many soccer field do I have in my town, what types of clothes do I wear when I play…The questions are simple but they’re not insignificant. The girls are thirsty to learn how women and soccer works in other countries. They’re excited to be part of this sport that connects them to each other, but also to other girls around the world. And they should be; it’s a powerful thing.

I’m excited to see what Mighty things these girls accomplish in the future, and am really proud to be part of their story.