Celebrating the Power of Play and Education 

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Access to Education, Cambodia

Play matters because people matter. It reminds us of our interdependence and gives us a chance to really see other people and, in turn, to be really and truly seen.

Jill Violet

The Sports for Development Program (S4D) aims to build community and friendship while emphasizing the importance of physical exercise in an enjoyable way. 

At World Hope International, we believe in the transformative power of play and education for children around the world. In Cambodia, through our Sports for Development (S4D) program, Indigenous Bunong children are not only learning to thrive physically but also developing crucial transferable life skills that will shape their futures.

The Friendship Games, initiated in April 2022, brought together four local primary schools in Mondulkiri province, creating a platform for children to bond, compete, and grow emphasizing physical exercise in an enjoyable way.

Building friendships and crossing bridges of differences can often be harder for adults than for children. Bringing children from different indigenous communities together to participate in sport grows friendship and trust between the children AND the parents and teachers who come to cheer the children on.

The Friendship Games

In April 2022, World Hope International Cambodia hosted the first Friendship Games in Mondulkiri province between 4 local primary schools. 

It was an enormous success, beyond what program leaders expected or hoped for:  The inaugural games drew a sizeable attendance from the community, and the sheer excitement and joy from the kids was infectious. Both the boys’ and girls’ matches went to the wire in penalty shootouts after 0-0 and 1-1 draws respectively, adding to the electric atmosphere!  

With the support of USAID Morodok Baitang and Mission Alliance, The Friendship Games aim to build strong friendships between Bunong indigenous students from different schools as well as build team members confidence in themselves and in each other. Two more Friendship Games have taken place since that inaugural event.

Parents and community members from each partner school come to cheer and support their children’s team with smiles on their faces. And as communities come together for The Friendship games, bridges are built between people from different villages. Each subsequent event has seen an increase in parental attendance (both mothers and fathers), teachers, and community members. One of the goals for these events is to foster community spirit and unity between schools and villages. This has been achieved, as everyone is united in cheering very loudly for the teams regardless of which village or school they come from.  

Seeing both girls and boys from different schools competing respectfully, accepting wins and losses with a smile, and cheering each other on from the side-lines is evidence of the program’s success.

More than Just Sports

Sports is more than playing and competing. Skills learned on the field like communication, managing stress, resolving conflict, respect, gender inclusivity, and equality are transferable to the classroom and to daily life. As members of the often-marginalized indigenous Bunong people group, when Bunong children take part, it fosters pride in their community as they compete in this friendly competition.  

What program leaders continue to notice is the increased skills and sportsmanship of the children. The children play with determination but are very fair and help each other when someone falls or is struggling. The lessons of fair play, teamwork and perseverance taught in after-school clubs will be used by children in all areas of their lives. Beyond the sheer excitement and joy witnessed during the games, what truly resonates is the spirit of camaraderie and sportsmanship displayed by both young boys and girls. As parents, teachers, and community members come together to cheer on the teams, bridges of friendship are being built, transcending village boundaries and fostering a sense of community spirit. 

As we celebrate the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, let us continue to invest in the holistic development of children worldwide, recognizing the invaluable role of play and education in shaping a brighter future for them.  

Miranda Valentini

Miranda Valentini

Director of Engagement and Experience

World Hope International – Canada

Together, let’s help HOPE flourish around the world.