Meet the Match
A Cambodian Woman Gets Kids Skating Toward Bright Futures
As a young girl in a village on the outskirts of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, Chansangva Kouv wasn’t sure what the future held for her. In her community, violence and corruption were an everyday reality. Deep inside, she wanted to escape and to give back to others—she wanted to make a difference.
Chansangva, or “Tin” as she prefers, was a teenager when she began dreaming of one day becoming a teacher at an NGO. She wanted to help children, especially girls, from villages like her own to get away from violence and fight for equality. While finishing high school, she began volunteering with Tiny Toones, an organization using dance and hip-hop to empower at-risk children in Cambodia. After two years as a part-time volunteer trainer and teacher, she discovered Skateistan.
“They were providing this cool sport, and there weren’t a lot of people doing it, especially girls,” Tin says. “I was so impressed.”
Skateistan offered Tin the chance to become a “real teacher,” and finally become comfortable in her own skin. When she was a girl, she was the one out playing in the streets with the boys, while the girls played with dolls and dresses.
“I was the one doing sports that most girls in my village didn’t really do,” Tin says. “Skateboarding was this new, risky sport and I was intrigued.”
As she first started in a part-time position with Skateistan in 2012, Tin took time away from the office learning skateboarding tricks on her own. Oftentimes, the boys watched and made fun of her. She used this as a motivation to get even better.
After being promoted to full-time teacher, Tin moved over to her current position as a program officer in 2017. Among her many responsibilities in this position, she provides training to young leaders, coordinates with partners, supports media and communications efforts, and creates teaching activities for the more 200 children reached by Skateistan’s programs in Phnom Penh. Of these children, there are approximately 90 with a range of disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, deafness, and limb differences.
In her many years working with the organization, Tin has seen the ways skateboarding has not only impacted her life and the lives of children from similarly challenging environments, but also the lives of these children with disabilities. It has given them confidence, new friendships and improved their communication skills.
“Nowadays, when I look at my society, girls and people with disabilities never get empowered or have opportunities to be integrated into society,” Tin says. “There is shyness, fear, and discrimination. My goal is using skateboarding to empower them because I know that it can change their lives.”
Despite the increasing impact of their work, Tin and Skateistan face many challenges. Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. The country has a high level of income inequality, far-reaching corruption, crime, and limited access to quality education and employment. Many children and adults with disabilities suffer from chronic malnutrition and are severely affected by social discrimination. Many Cambodians’ wills have been broken by these challenges, and they don’t believe the situation can change.
“Skateistan and I really want to provide children with something that is unique and gives them hope again,” Tin says. “It is hard because skateboarding is still new and there are few people doing it. Many people are afraid of getting hurt or their parents are reluctant. But, we have been here for five years making an impact.”
By participating in the U.S. Department of State Global Sports Mentoring Program, Tin gained the valuable knowledge and experience needed for enhancing the sport and education program offered by Skateistan in Cambodia. In addition to learning about community program development, fundraising, and adaptive sports research, she also focused on monitoring and evaluating the positive impact skateboarding is making in the lives of the children with disabilities. During the program, she was mentored by Mary Patstone, director of adaptive sports and recreation for Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, who oversees 29 land- and water-based sports in multiple sites around Massachusetts. With their collaboration, Tin, Mary, and key local partners who supported Spaulding during the mentorship, worked to show the powerful effect skateboarding and other unique sports can have in both the U.S. and Cambodia for empowering children and adults of all ability levels.