Stories from the Football Field

Flame’s Female Football Coach Chanthy

Chanthy, the Flame Head Coach shared some of her personal story with me as we attended the Tottenham Hotspur training together last month, led by @tottemhamhotspur development coaches @shawnharris and @antonblackwood.

Chanthy saw football being played years ago when she was working as a cleaner. She loved watching the kids have fun and could clearly see the benefits of football. When the coach resigned she couldn’t stand the thought of the kids missing out, so she put her hand up and became the new football coach. Since then, Chanthy has gained many football training qualifications and 15 years later, football is still her passion and joy.  She is now the assistant coach to the Cambodian Women’s National Football team as well as working with the six Flame Football teams. She has seen the power of football and in particular, the impact that it has on the lives of girls. 

She told me this story: 

“One day, a girl showed up at one of our training sessions. She obviously really loved the challenge of being on the field with the boys who were physically bigger and stronger than her… but then her father arrived. He ran onto the field wielding two long pieces of bamboo and started chasing her. She ran for her life but he caught up with her and started thrashing the backs of her bare legs, the sharp sticks welting skin. He was yelling brutally, “You are a girl! Why are you here? All the players are boys! Get off the field!!!” Chanthy ran over and put herself in-between the irate father and the girl, and tried to explain to him that his daughter would be able to become strong, and learn critical skills for life that would take her far… The marks on the girls legs needed ice and some care and she was crying bitterly but this did not stop her from coming back to training. The next session, she brought a friend and now there are 15 girls playing football regularly here.”

This is the Sensok Football team training with Cambodian National Team and Svay Rieng player @pidorsamoeun - not the one from Chanthy’s story - Please count the girls.

This is the Sensok Football team training with Cambodian National Team and Svay Rieng player @pidorsamoeun - not the one from Chanthy’s story - Please count the girls.

You turned around Sopha's life

Sopha is a hardworking boy of 16, packing nails into boxes in a factory each weekend, where he worked full time, from 8-12pm then 1-5pm, earning himself $1 per day. Real story. Before you started helping him, in addition to the factory work, he was picking and selling flowers to pay his way through school. He would wake at 4am and pick flowers on the side of the road and sell them, making a pitiful 50-75 cents. Because he was up so early each day, he struggled to stay awake in the stuffy classroom and wasn’t doing well in school.

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Sopha’s mum works as a cleaner, but after paying the rent and getting food, her payslip just couldn’t cover the extra few dollars to keep Sopha in school. Now you are supporting Sopha’s studies, he attends classes at the Flame Activity Centre. He no longer needs to wake up hours before dawn, he has time to work on his homework assignments on the weekend, and concentrates on his studies. He is so happy that he has this new freedom that allows him to do well at school. He is no longer exhausted and is able to stay awake in class and maximize his learning years. You have made it possible for him to take extra classes and he loves it. He devours everything and is so willing to learn! He and his mother and siblings want to express their thanks for making this life change possible.


Spare Time

What do you normally do in your spare time?


I was really challenged last week when i heard about Sok Sua and what he has been doing over the weekend. You might remember that he’s the guy who runs the Book Tuktuk, the Flame Mobile Classroom. He is remarkably tall for a Khmer guy, and has a huge smile. The kids adore him. He wears nice trousers, slim fitting and professional looking, he looks like he works in an office! And there he is, leading a wee crew of kiddies right in the heart of the local community, teaching them to read and write. He honours them by wearing nice clothes, dressing up for his job, he takes his role seriously. He knows the impact that he has, not just in terms of literacy, but in the value that he imparts to the kids by showing up day after day and caring for them.

So, what does a guy like this do on the weekend? I heard that he was in a particularly low income area and randomly came across some kids. He stopped and bent down, and asked if they were in school. They weren’t lucky enough to attend school and were intrigued by this tall, friendly guy even noticing them. He paused and decided to spend a bit of time with the kids and do some ad hoc lessons with them, going over the alphabet and some basic number games… and they were delighted. He said later, that it’s not just the Monday to Friday that he’s interested in. These are his people. This is his country and these kids deserve an education. When he said goodbye to the kids, he gave them a little spending money, so they could buy a drink to share. What a heart this guy has.

At Flame, it’s not just what we do, it’s who does it. If you want to help us help the poor, please consider donating.


Football Facts 

Someone asked me last week in response to the Flame Football Fundraiser, last year,

“Why does Flame do football when Cambodian kids often go hungry?”

We have been consistently promoting sport at Flame because we believe that it’s a smart way to connect with young people in a way that will help them both on and off the field. This is not just a hunch!  As I have dug into UN documents and research about sport as a tool to help at risk communities, I have found a clear link with improved academic outcomes. Literacy is absolutely necessary to becoming a leader, and slum living kids becoming leaders is what Flame is all about!

High school enrollment in Cambodia sits at 57%*. Participation in sport has been shown to have a direct relationship with a more positive attitude toward school work and improved academic performance. These academic factors are important predictors of future educational attainment and occupational success. This is what is necessary for sustainable development. Flame wants to see long term impact in these communities and this is one proven way of achieving that. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states that sport contributes to the empowerment of communities as a while and particularly, to the empowerment of youth.

Recently the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) also linked sport with life-skills development and crime prevention. Being part of a team promotes inclusion and creates a positive sense of well being among the players. Football is a popular pastime among the slum living kids and has a wide reach -we don’t need to recruit kids or twist anyone’s arm to play.

So this is why we have a focus on football! We need your help to keep the teams afloat, buy gear and pay the field costs.


These kids need boots! Please help them by donating using the button below. Just click and donate.


“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” Nietzsche 

Why do we build bridges? Bridges take us from one side to another. They enable movement in situations where, without them, a crossing would be either difficult, inconvenient, or at times, impossible. In the lives of the children of the urban poor in Phnom Penh, the bridge with which they “cross the river of life” can take them from being unseen, unheard, without representation, oppressed, living literally in the margins of the city, to a place of healthy integration into society. Education is a key component to this kind of economic and social mobility but the actual daily process takes so much more than just education.

For me, the Nietzsche quote begs the question, what is the bridge on which you cross the river of life made of? The final product and therefore destination of this bridge depends on both the material and construction of that bridge. What is necessary for a child to be able to build a bridge that will effectively take them from poverty and desperation to a space of empowerment? I don’t have answers, and each child needs a different set of materials depending on the individual situation, but one thing’s for sure, they all need courage, determination and strength.

For the kids who live in squalid circumstances, often with parents who have gone through hideous times, access to education is by no means a given. But that access alone is not the bridge. The children themselves need to build their own bridge and cross over to the other side. They face huge challenges, pressure to contribute to the family economy, and practical obstacles like a house which is not waterproof in a city that witnesses massive deluges in the rainy season for months of the year. They often don’t have someone at home who can help them with their homework. It’s not easy.

I have seen happy kids laughing in some of the most dismal places in the city, and some of them will have the courage and will to stay in school, year after year until they graduate. We see today in the Leadership Academy, young adults who have had to dig deep, overcome obstacles and now determine their own futures.

We need help to get more young high school graduates into our program.

Please consider donating and helping these guys with their bridge.

Veasna, an Inspirational Young Woman

I met with a Flame Leadership Academy student this week, Veasna, who is working now for Flame on the social work team. She understands the value of learning and specifically of learning language. She is from a disadvantaged family herself - she knows exactly how hard it is for the Flame kids and has literally 'been there, done that". She knows first hand what commitment looks like and to this day has an unusual level of determination to make the most of the opportunity that she has been given. She attends university and gains work experience at Flame. She was telling me that when she goes home and visits with her younger siblings and mum they ask her about when she’s going to find a husband and get married, and she just shakes her head and says she just doesn’t have the space. She is single-minded in her focus to do her very best at university and to help the kids in Flame. She has had a glimpse of her own potential and fully believes that she is able to make a huge difference and NOTHING is going to stand in her way.

She went on to explain to me, that in Cambodia, without a sold grasp of English, kids they will be isolated from the international community and disadvantaged in accessing the best materials for their studies. They will not be able to reach their full potential.

When i visited her at the Flame Activity Centre in Sensok, Veansa pointed out to me one girl who was at our centre for the very first time. She is a bright 14 year old, in grade 8, but had never been able to attend English lessons and really lacks confidence as she knows she is behind and struggling to keep up. Her mother has HIV and is at the stage now where she isn’t mobile and has stopped eating, and even finds it hard to drink. What does the future look like for the eldest girl in a family which is losing its mother?

Life is not fair. That’s for sure. I see kids who have been given a huge chance and their lives and futures will never be the same… and i have seen too many kids tagging along behind a parent pulling a cart of recycled plastic, barefoot and grubby, busy working to support their families. The number of kids that Flame can reach is limited by donations. It’s basic maths.

We are increasing the numbers of university scholarships and opening our doors for more people like Vaesna but really need your help to pay for the scholarships. Please consider giving to the Flame Leadership Academy Program so that more people like Veasna can receive a university education and give back to the communities they came from. This is the full circle.

Human Trafficking & Debt

This blog was originally posted in 2017 but this story still happens in Cambodia today:

One of our young leaders, a recent high school graduate has started University. She is bright, hardworking and has now begun volunteering at one of the Flame centres teaching English to the young slum-living kids. She is pretty and full of energy with a genuine, kind heart.

So far the story looks good, right?

About 6 weeks ago, she basically decided to take up an amazing job in Japan. The package included the airfare and visa, the monthly salary was said to be US$1500, which is a truckload of money for a 19 year old!

This kind of scheme draws in those who are struggling, the brokers deliberately target rural areas where there are known debts.

Our young leader's mother is supporting the family on her own, as well as looking after their grandmother. Out of desperate need, the mum took a loan from her employer. Now she works full time in a paid job but receives NONE of her salary. It goes directly to her employer to pay the exorbitant interest on the loan, 10% per month. 

With this kind of financial pressure hanging over her family- directly affecting her, with cultural pressures at play, the Japan job is SO tempting. Our young leader is willing to give up her own education and dreams of being an English professor at a university, to make quick cash, with the HOPE that she will be safe and that the job will be real. 

The reality is that all of the associated costs of the trip could become a huge debt held against her, so instead of repaying a debt she creates another one.  There is NO guarantee of a good income or safe working conditions, and once she has left her networks, language and everything familiar behind, she would be voiceless and completely at the mercy of a stranger.

This is THE standard human trafficking lure. 

Poverty is a complex problem and we have learned that there are no easy solutions. We have shared previously that primary education immunises the community against traffickers, and because this young woman is in Flame, she had a safe place to come with her fears and questions about the job opportunity in Japan. This is a timely reminder of the need to practically equip and arm our young people against those who would exploit and take advantage of them.

What other ways can we help this family?

Why does this job offer worry us? Just last week seven Cambodian women were rescued from a restaurant in Japan where they were allegedly forced into sex work.

The women, who are in their 20s, were lured to work at the restaurant in central Honshu in November with promises of high wages by a Japanese owner who arranged visas and airfares for them. Here's the link to the article

Japan has long been a destination for women from Southeast Asia seeking higher wages. Some find themselves forced into sex work or indentured labor.

Last August the Philippines warned its citizens against illegally traveling to Japan in search of work, saying they often risked being trafficked for sex or forced labor.

Washington’s annual report on human trafficking says Japan remains a “destination, source and transit” country for human trafficking despite a recent increase in prosecutions.

Let's keep the ambulance running at the bottom of the cliff... but work hard to build fences at the top.  


We have heard of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon,  but maybe not the “floating gardens of Cambodia” but throughout history, Cambodians have been growing vegetables and flowers with fish in this very zen and sustainable harmonious collaboration. Small scale intense farming of organic vegetables and fish is a familiar concept to Cambodians. 


The Flame Young Adults are excited and engaged in growing organic veggies with bubbling fish in ponds right in front of the Leadership Academy. Figuring out the details of ph levels and really trying to keep the fish alive has proven quite the challenge for these keen university students. Words that come to mind are “STEEP LEARNING CURVE”! The mortality rate of the fish has been quite horrific! Nobody said it would be easy! We are super thankful for Michael Hensel and Koya Project , who have come alongside Flame to give the Young Adults the necessary training. If you click on the link you’ll see the smiling faces of Flame Young Adults on the Koya website landing page :-)

We are not the aquaponics NGO, but we are launching our Young Adults into projects where they can practically learn and grow and develop their leadership skills. The dream for aquaponics is replicating these little systems within the poorest communities of urban Phnom Penh. It’s a long way off yet! If you’d like to help support our Young Adults, please donate using the button below.


Why we love sport

Imagine a young girl walking along a dusty track between endless rice paddies. She has a skip to her step as she heads to the nearby volleyball pitch, net strung between two coconut trees. The sun is relentless in the Cambodian countryside, and she thinks nothing of her bare feet, enjoying the sense of being able to touch the earth, dust between her toes. The volleyball competition between the different groups of village kids isn’t the most important thing to her, it’s being able to escape from her 12 year old worries. She can shelve the stress she feels about her parents latest quarrel, the sulking refusal to join the family meal. She is distracted at school with thoughts that circle inside her head, wondering if her parents will stay together, wondering who she will find when she goes home. When she’s playing sport, she focusses on the ball and on her team mates, desperate not to let the team down, hoping to avoid any recrimination or blame for a fumbled shot or bad pass. She wants her team to know she is trying her best. She laughs out loud and loves sport.

As an adult now, Navy brings these memories to her job at Flame. She is passionate about sport and believes that it’s not just about skills on the field. Sport is a way out of the mundane drag of life, an escape from the monotony of the slums. It’s football, of course it’s about the physicality of the sport, health and strength, balance and muscle development, but it’s so much more than that. The technical aspects of football can be summarised by how one team conquers another, but the process involves the kids brains as they learn to read the other team, communicate with their own team, maintain trust and relationships, and plan and strategise on the run. The skills learned on the field can be transferred to daily life.

To continue training the bodies and minds of the 65 young Flame footballers, we need your support. Please donate and do it now so that we can make the most of the Global Giving Campaign

World Famous in New Zealand - our founder Sue Hanna

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Growing up on the family farm in the Waikato, Sue Hanna’s passion for helping people was heavily ingrained from her childhood, which led to her current venture - helping Cambodian children living in slums complete their education - from primary through to university.

With more than 25 years in leadership and ministry roles, Sue founded Flame Cambodia in 2015, alongside another fellow Kiwi, Nicola Palairet from Auckland, who is the current communications manager.

Flame was created to connect with slum-dwelling children and inspire them to leave begging or rubbish collecting and start school or re-engage in education. The goal is that each child reaches beyond their potential.

Currently, Sue facilitates foundational leadership training to young adults. She also mentors, motivates and encourages the staff who work in the centres with the children to help them to be able to do the work that they do.

They have a team of 33 staff members throughout the different Flame programs such as three activity centres, a residential university scholarship program, leadership training and more.

Sue calls the process of the children becoming a young leader “the full circle” and it involves three stages – identify, grow and launch.

The activity centre staff work with children and their families to identify why they’re not in school. Often that’s due to low income or perhaps the parents are illiterate, so they can’t fill out the forms or the kids don’t have a birth certificate. 

‘Grow’ is about keeping the kids in school, motivated, and passing their grades. The kids go to school for half a day, and the other half they go to one of Flame Cambodia’s three activity centres to do any catch-up work with staff to help them stay on track in school.

As part of their ‘launch’ stage, Flame has university scholarships available and a leadership programme, so they strongly encourage the university students to come up with mini projects of their own that they would like to happen to help their people or the communities they came from.

“Those kids are the future generation, and this enables them to learn a new skillset while giving back to their community. They emerge as confident leaders in their communities, inspiring others in education, service, and leadership,” Sue said.

“We launch them off to help Cambodia because they’re the ones who will change it.”

It was “wandering around the planet” on her OE and seeing poverty throughout the world that lead Sue to where she is now.

“It had a huge impact on me and made me realise that I had the ability to make a significant difference in somebody’s life even if I didn’t know them,” Sue said.

Upon her return, she worked for World Vision for 10 years as a territory manager in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, King Country and East Coast.

It was in this role that she visited Cambodia several times to see the work that World Vision was doing and collect stories to take back home and raise more money.

“Cambodia got more and more under my skin every time I went, to the point that in 2004 I took some annual leave, went to Cambodia and decided I was going to find a Sue-shaped hole, because I knew there was something I could do there which was linked into those moments I had when I was travelling on my OE,” Sue said.

Sue’s passion has always been to stand alongside the poor and disadvantaged, who have been written off by their own communities, and to help them.

Her parents also held a desire to help people, so growing up, they always had extra people coming to stay in their family home. Sue said they would have people out of prison who would stay often for six months at a time, as well as missionaries who were overseas and had just come back to New Zealand.

“As a child, I would just immerse myself into other people’s stories. I also read a lot of autobiography books, and I would imagine myself exploring and thinking this is what I want my life to look like,” Sue said.

Sue has been living in Cambodia for the past 13 years, helping families through Flame Cambodia. However, they also have a New Zealand board, which includes Brian Trebilco from Te Awamutu, as the board chair; Greg Stocker from Pirongia as trustee; and Meredith Brocklebank from Auckland, who is the secretary treasurer.

The name Flame comes from a biblical passage, where it talks about a flame which is nurtured and then it eventually comes to a point where it’s a fire on its own.

“That’s where the identify, grow and launch comes from – at the start we need to do a lot of protecting, encouraging and inspiring, but then it becomes a point where the fire will keep going, and then it’s a well-burning fire and those people can then go off and start other fires, to give back to their communities.” 

 27/Aug/2018  by Shontelle Campbell

Time for Toothpaste

Research shows that healthy mouths aid  healthy bodies...  and we know that healthy children have a huge advantage in their learning. 

In collaboration with Pro Health Cambodia ( and generously funded by the InTouch Global Foundation ( Flame began a "Brush My Teeth" centre-based iniative, adding oral hygiene to the  to the education based program.

150 Flame kids eat a healthy and nutritious lunch with an age specific mult-vitamin. We take nutrition seriously. Now,  each child is supervised brushing their teeth each day they come to our Activity Centres.


Flame depends on donations to help the poorest kids in Phnom Penh. Please consider partnering with us to make a difference.


Esther So Photographer - Melbourne Exhibition, 01 Sept 2018

IMAGINE 2018 Exhibition
01 Sept 2018

Melbourne Meat Market
3 Blackwood Street
North Melbourne VIC 3051

Sat: 10am – 4pm

Esther, the Flame photographer, will have her photos featured in the Have A Heart For Cambodia IMAGINE 2018 exhibition on 01 Sept, 2018 in Melbourne's famous Meat Market. They are part of a awareness-raising campaign about Flame and the urban poor of Cambodia. Esther will be there in person, and her work will be on live auction, with other items for sale. Come along if you're in the area and have a look at her latest work.

For more information click here

Below is Esther's video, a heartbreaking account of her life as a child subject to the hardship of living in poverty. Esther graduated in June from the Royal University of Phnom Penh with a degree is sociology and works full time between Flame and another project among the urban poor children in the community where she grew up. 

We need your help to support young people like Esther.  Go and see her work being displayed and join in the celebration of her success story.