Monday, November 7, 2016

Volleyball for All

By Chansereypich Seng

Students proudly display the tournament poster
©Ben Evolu

One humid afternoon in late September, students were seen playing volleyball enthusiastically at Lycée Descartes – the French school in Phnom Penh. Extraordinarily, as well as calling out to each other, the players were communicating using sign language.

Around 80 students, both with and without disabilities, were divided into 12 teams and competed in Cambodia’s first-ever ‘Volleyball Inclusive Tournament’. Most of the students were between 15 and 18 years old and represented Lycée Descartes, the Toutes à l’Ecole organization and the Krousar Thmey Foundation.

Each team had two months to prepare, and during training in July and August while they sharpened their volleyball skills, they learnt a bit of sign language at the same time.

The tournament was organized by Kampuchea Balopp, a local social inclusion and education for children NGO that provides sports training to disadvantaged children and children with disabilities. Kampuchea Balopp works in partnership with Krousar Thmey, an organization that focuses on integrating children with hearing and visual disabilities into society through education and support. The two organizations plan to make the tournament a regular event.

The Inclusive Volleyball Tournament is funded through the Cambodia Disability Inclusive Development Fund, an NGO grant scheme supported by UNICEF and funded by the Government of Australia. The fund aims to ensure that organizations work together to provide the best possible support to persons with disabilities. The funding from the Government of Australia is part of its 2015-2020 Development for All Strategy which focuses on strengthening disability-inclusive development in Australia’s aid programme.

Very often, young persons with disabilities do not have the confidence to raise their voice in society, let alone strive for what they want. This tournament not only inspired them to take part in sport, but also to start believing they could achieve more in life.

Students from some of the teams relax after a game of volleyball
©Ben Evolu

The tournament’s purpose is to ignite passion in young persons with disabilities, so they can say, “Yes, we can do it like other people!” It builds confidence and trust among students and unleashes their sports potential. It is also a great way to raise awareness among the general population, communities, and local and international organizations about the rights of persons with disabilities in Cambodia.

With the September and May tournaments under their belts, the students are preparing for a third tournament in December, followed by a fourth in May 2017.

Marina, 14, an enthusiastic student and volleyball player from Lycée Descartes, said she loved playing in the inclusive tournament.

“I was excited about this tournament. It’s been an amazing experience! I have learned sign language and teamwork,” she said. “Sports do not have a limit. Everyone can enjoy playing their favourite games without being left behind.”

Thy Srey Leak is a 23-year-old student from Krousar Thmey. She used sign language to express her joy.

“I decided to join this tournament because I wanted to know how to play volleyball,” she said.

With a little smile she continued, “I had concerns that I would be isolated [for being deaf], but I received a lot of help from the instructors and my team. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to make new friends and improve my stamina.”

Reth Ra, an instructor from Kampuchea Balopp, said the tournament was a great way to bring people together.

“This inclusive volleyball tournament brings together young people with zero discrimination. They learn, help and appreciate each other,” he said. However, he also noted that the organizers faced some challenges, mostly which “Many parents of children with disabilities do not think it [inclusive tournament] is useful, thus they did not allow students to participate. We need to work hard to change their perceptions,” he said.

The tournament has been very successful as it encouraged exchange and mutual learning all the while having fun and through positive sports interactions. Children without disabilities quickly learned some sign language and were very keen to understand how they could communicate while playing. They now have a better understanding of the challenges faced by their teammates every day.

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