M’Lop Tapang U13 may not trip off the tongue in the same way as Chelsea, Barcelona or Arsenal, but it just happens to be a name of the team in the Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF) football program for disadvantaged children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Best of all, this was the team that beat 12 other sides in the biannual ISF boys competition (they run separate competitions for the girls as well as disabled teams). As I was down visiting the charity over the weekend, I had the privilege of presenting the trophy.
The Chairman’s Trust supports some brilliant causes and hand-on-heart after this weekend, all I can say is that ISF is one of them. Founded ten years ago by a group of diverse friends (all whom had originally met as accountants at PWC in HK in the eighties), the catalyst was the appalling living conditions of various children camped around the largest garbage site in Phnom Penh. The original intention was to find the ways and means to provide an education for 10-15 of those children. A decade on and with two schools under their belt, they are currently educating nearly 500 children who otherwise would not be attending school. The reason being is that their parents remain so poor that the preference is to send their children out to work. Those pupils are then brought into the ISF program with the intention that after usually some three or more years of catch-up education they are in a position to join the state education system.
If that was not enough, ISF also established a sporting program to encourage and coach disadvantaged children to play football on the basis that every child should have the opportunity to play and participate in organised sport. Currently, nearly 4,000 boys, girls and disabled children from local schools, NGOs and disadvantaged families are enrolled in this program. It may seem slightly puerile to go to such effort to allow children to play a sport when so many other things in their lives are in need of help. But when you see the fun and pride that they showed for their teams, it is clear that this soccer program is transformational. Play is one of the most underrated therapies that exist.
I cannot reiterate enough how much fun these children were having; or how special and dedicated were the teachers, coaches, volunteers and others that I met who operate and run the charity. I subsequently had the privilege of sitting in on the ISF board meeting and it could not have been more professional. Finally, a Sunday afternoon spent wandering around some of the slums was a sobering reminder that Slumdog Millionaire is not a fictional film when it comes to the appalling living conditions that many people still find themselves living in.
To come across such a well-run charity that so positively addresses these challenges was a real honour. To present the cup to M’Lop Tapang U13 team was the icing on the cake.
Indochina Starfish Foundation believes that every child, regardless of where they were born, has the right to education, healthcare and sport. Established in 2006, ISF aims o make a fundamental and long-lasting positive change in the lives of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged children and their families in Cambodia.