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Snohomish Family Brings Soccer To Cambodia

Eddie and Kari Carter went to Cambodia in 2003 on a humanitarian mission. They had no idea that it would one day be their little girls who would dramatically improve the lives of Cambodia’s thousands of at-risk teens – not by building houses, gathering clothes, raising money or any other form of “traditional” outreach, but simply by doing what they do best … playing soccer.

The Carters, residents of Snohomish County, first visited the Southeast Asian nation five years ago as part of an outreach program through their church. Over the course of three months, they were exposed to one of the nation’s most significant social issues – the thousands of teenage and pre-teen girls who have been rescued from prostitution, trafficking and other illegal activities.

“These girls have been through so much more than anyone their age should ever have to experience,” says Eddie, whose daughters, 10-year-old Sydney, 13-year-old Olivia and 16-year-old Whitney, all play for Washington Youth Soccer teams in Snohomish. “I wanted to find a way to help encourage and empower them to take back control of their lives and regain confidence in themselves.”

Over the course of their time in Cambodia, the Carters worked with a local leader, Sam Schweingruber (currently the Director of Women’s Football in Cambodia), who had started a soccer league in the hope of using soccer as a tool for teaching life skills. Surprisingly – in what is largely a male-dominated culture – several girls wanted to sign up, and two teams were formed. While the boys’ teams had opponents throughout the region to play, the two teams of girls played against each other every week – often to snickers and mockery from spectators who were quick to judge the girls’ relative lack of ball skills and coordination.

A year later, the Carters returned. During one game, Schweingruber invited Carter’s daughters to play with one of the Cambodian teams. Word quickly spread around town that the American girls would be playing with the Cambodians, and many from the town gathered around the field to watch. For the first several minutes, the usual jeers and heckles could be heard as the local girls struggled to complete passes or work together as a team. Suddenly, though, the tone changed.

“Early on in the game, my daughter had to take a corner,” Eddie says. “She lined it up and sent over the most beautiful cross I’d ever seen her take. The crowd just gasped – it was like, ‘A girl can actually do that?’ Everyone began applauding, and for the rest of the game, no one was jeering anymore, they were all applauding and encouraging the girls. After the game, several girls came up to them and asked, ‘Can you teach us how to do that?’”

Schweingruber, with the backing of FIFA and the Football Federation of Cambodia, ultimately founded the Sports and Leadership Training (SALT) Academy in Battambang, the first organized girls soccer league in Cambodia. Since its inception, the program has exploded, growing from two teams in Batambang to include more than 2,000 players and over 11 girls teams in multiple provinces. In 2009, the first Cambodian Women’s National Team was formed, including several of the girls first trained through SALT.

This summer, the Carters returned to Cambodia with nearly two dozen players, coaches and team managers from multiple Washington Youth Soccer clubs. Over the course of two weeks, the girls barnstormed the area in and around Battambang playing soccer, visiting local girls in their homes, and sharing their love of the game with as many young girls as they could.

The trip was a return engagement for a number of girls, who first visited Battambang with Carter and his family in 2009. For them, the opportunity to reconnect with friends made last year, and to see how their lives – and games – had improved, was a special experience.

Carter says that crowds of up to 1,000 spectators gathered in several towns to watch the team of Americans play against their Cambodian squads. In one such town – where local organizers were considering starting a U11 and younger girls team – the field was in too poor of a condition to play more than a brief game, and many of the girls were disappointed that they hadn’t had the chance to “show” better for the locals, concerned that their tentative, cautious play had only reinforced the idea that girls couldn’t play the game in as free-flowing an exciting a style as the boys.

At the end of the game, the girls took a photo on the field. As the shot was lined up, Carter noticed several of the Cambodian parents in the background, edging their girls into the frame. On the way back to the U.S., Carter received word from Schweingruber at SALT – whereas before the game, the town had been considering one team, they were now calling to report that there were three teams’ worth of girls interested in playing.

“Prior to our visit, there had been lots of girls who wanted to play, but their parents had said no,” Eddie recalls. “After seeing our game, the parents all wanted their girls to play soccer. It was a really exciting moment for our girls, to see the impact that they could have.”

Eddie says that the feedback he has received from his many visits to the country suggest that the efforts of SALT Academy are having a significant impact on improving the lives of Cambodia’s at-risk young women.

“Until just recently, it’s been largely a male-dominated culture, so these girls haven’t had an outlet to express themselves or process their emotions,” Eddie says. “Soccer is both raising awareness of the issue, while giving them the opportunity to work out their anger in a positive, personally fulfilling way.”

Shortly after returning to the U.S. in August of this year, Eddie received an e-mail from the Football Federation of Cambodia, which expressed interest in possibly establishing an international tournament in the country, to include youth girls’ teams from neighboring Laos, Vietnam and Singapore, as well as visiting teams from the United States. The Carters are now in the initial stages of establishing a non-profit foundation to raise money for continued development, with the hopes of expanding their outreach in the coming years.

“Our girls all want to go back,” he says. “There’s still a lot to be done to raise awareness of the needs these young Cambodian girls have, and the good that can be done for them through soccer. It’s been an incredible experience, but there is a lot still that we can do.”

Interested in helping, or possibly becoming involved? Contact Eddie Carter at

Washington Youth Soccer

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