Jul 8th, 2021 07/08/21 | Community Stories

Changing Perceptions

CCF student Suon Borei is breaking stereotypes for girls in Cambodia by forging a path in both technology and football

After finishing a class in computer coding, Suon Borei likes nothing more than blowing off steam on the football field.

Both are her twin passions and she’s on a mission to prove that girls in Cambodia can excel in both in a country where young women have previously had limited opportunities to participate in either field.

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L: TOP: Borei in a STEM class at CCF
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They always taught me that if a boy can do it, I can do it

— CCF student Suon Borei

CCF student Borei, 21, is in her second year of a Computer Science degree and has been training as an assistant football coach in her spare time - sectors that are traditionally male dominated in Cambodia.

But times are changing and attitudes too.

Young women like Borei, who started playing football as a girl with CCF, are leading the charge for change as part of a new generation of educated and informed young Cambodian women who are aiming higher than ever before.

“I had motivation and encouragement from my teacher and my friends as well as my brothers. They always taught me that if a boy can do it, I can do it,” says Borei, who has two brothers and an older sister.

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Borei is breaking barriers for girls in Cambodia

By showing she can succeed in I.T. and football, Borei is a powerful role model for young female CCF students coming up behind her.

But her influence extends beyond CCF.

Her achievements send a positive message to all girls in the country, inspiring others to address the barriers to their right to an education and play sport.

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I can do what the boys can do

— Suon Borei

“Technology is my passion and I love playing football too,” says Borei.

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Borei in the classroom
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Borei (right) in action

“We need to give girls many opportunities to study technology and play football or other sports.”

Women are underrepresented in science and technology jobs in Cambodia, which is why CCF actively encourages girls like Borei to study STEM and consider careers in these fields.

Girls are also given every opportunity to take part in sports such as football and basketball, as CCF promotes inclusivity for girls.

“At first, people always told me that I was acting like a boy for playing football and doing technology,” says Borei.

“But I don’t let them make me feel down. I can do what the boys can do.”

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Borei (center) in her CCF football kit

Borei revels in kicking stereotypes into touch and proving the doubters wrong. While she is vocal in her support for other girls to follow in her footsteps, she has used action not just words to prove her case.

In her first year at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Borei was one of only seven girls out of a class of 55 on her Computer Science course.

This has increased to 10 girls in the second year but female tech students are still in the minority, although Borei says she’s noticed more women starting to study science majors.

In June 2020, Borei was one of three CCF students, and the only girl, studying IT or technical engineering awarded a scholarship from CIMB Bank in Cambodia to cover the fees for their four year undergraduate degrees.

CCF is supporting Borei with financial help for books and study materials.

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Borei (center) receiving her scholarship from CIMB Bank

Borei recently completed her paid internship at Happy Football Cambodia Australia (HFCA), which works with disadvantaged youth in Cambodia running football programs, learning the ropes and being trained as an assistant coach. CCF has partnered with HFCA since 2009.

Borei's aptitude for STEM and football would in all likelihood have never been discovered or allowed the chance to flourish had she not joined CCF.

Originally from Battambang province, in northwestern Cambodia, the family moved to Phnom Penh when she was a young child so that her sick father could receive hospital treatment.

In 2007, her father passed away, leaving her mother a widow with four young children. Borei, then aged seven, and her older brother and sister joined CCF shortly afterwards.

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Borei (left) pictured in 2007 shortly after joining CCF
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If you don’t try, you won’t know what it is like. Don’t give up on your dream

— Suon Borei

Her interest in technology was sparked at a young age taking computer classes at CCF.

This potential was nurtured later at the Neeson Cripps Academy (NCA), CCF’s flagship secondary school, which provides a high quality education with a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), where she had the chance to learn electronics, coding and programming.

Borei is proud to be representing women in technology and is keen to encourage others to follow suit.

“Many young women might think it is difficult to study in the IT field but my advice is don’t think that you cannot do it because you will be out of your comfort zone,” says Borei.

“If you don’t try, you won’t know what it is like. Don’t give up on your dream.”

Borei leading from the front as a young leader

She breaks into a big smile when talking about technology and speaks excitedly about her plans to study for a Master’s overseas (her preferred choice is Canada) and ambition to be a web designer.

Her enthusiasm continues as the talk switches to football.

An avid fan of the beautiful game, her favourite team is Barcelona, who play in Spain’s La Liga.

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Borei in the CCF community wearing a Barcelona football top

She’s also been watching every match of the UEFA European Championship online streamed by a friend, and is supporting England, who she will be cheering on when they play Italy in the final on Sunday (July 11th).

Borei recalls her love of football began when she was in Grade 4 or 5 at school. She later joined a CCF girls football team.

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Borei (2nd right) with her CCF football teammates
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Borei loves her football

Being part of a team helped improve her confidence and self-belief.

Research has shown that playing sport enhances development among young children, according to UNICEF South East Asia, and equips them with skills such as teamwork, critical thinking and creativity.

It also has the power to unite children, regardless of age, gender or socio-economic background.

In October last year, Borei was one of two youth from CCF chosen to be the first in HFCA’s internship program teaching them skills on and off the football pitch.

Borei has been taking her assistance coach skills seriously.

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Borei speaks to the HFCA players to explain coaching drills (Image: P. Grogan)
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Borei does temperature checks before each HFCA training session (Image: P. Grogan)

On the pitch, she’s also been coaching the younger girls and acting as a translator between the British coach and Khmer players.

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Borei and the other Interns have been very impressive and they are a credit to Cambodian Children's Fund.

— Paraic Grogan, HFCA Founder

As well as learning football coaching, Borei has been picking up vital life skills. She’s had training on development, management and financial literacy - she opened her first bank account and signed her first employment contract with HFCA.

“Borei and the other Interns have been very impressive and they are a credit to Cambodian Children's Fund. Borei in particular has a great attitude to fixing problems and managing small projects,” says Paraic Grogan, HFCA Founder.

The football intern program is on hold for now due to COVID.

And while Borei’s playing days have had to take a back seat so she can concentrate on her studies, she fully intends to pull on her football boots again in the future.

“I love football, it’s fun and playing it relaxes me after a stressful time,” she says.

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Borei with CCF Founder, Scott Neeson, and second CCF intern Makara (Image: P. Grogan)

In the meantime, she has just started a job dealing with social media and communications for a local restaurant in Phnom Penh, combined with studying for three hours in the evening for six days a week.

She lives with her mum, younger brother (who is a CCF student) and her sister, who is in the fourth year of a management degree. Her older brother, Norain, works for CCF as a photographer and is studying part-time also for a Computer Science degree.

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Borei with her older brother Norain, who was also a CCF student

Borei’s mum, 54, is very proud of her pioneering daughter.

“My mum is very supportive. She feels great because of what I am doing,” says Borei.

“I am supporting the family as well with my work and I am doing what I love.”

Borei is proof that given a chance, girls can shine in areas previously closed off to them - and that any child, given the opportunity, can fulfil their potential.

Written by

Kate Ginn

Girls & Women

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