It is another hot and humid day in Phnom Penh – the Cambodian sun is beating down on the scorched field. Amassed in a tight huddle are five coaches and more than fifty campers. The coaches are talking about the value of respect, equality, positivity and most importantly – having fun. This isn’t any other day camp. This is the Youth Ultimate Project: the first student-run, international Ultimate camp.
Youth Ultimate Project (YUP) was created by five high school students from The Northwest School in Seattle, Washington. On a class trip to Phnom Penh in the Spring of 2010, the students fell in love with the Cambodian way of life. But as beautiful as the Khmer culture was, the team was struck by challenges that Cambodian youth face every day. Kids that were lucky enough to go to school attended for only half the day, while most never had the opportunity to receive an education or were forced to drop out at a young age in order to work. United by a passion to make a difference, the first YUP coaches realized that ultimate was the perfect way to engage the Cambodian youth, share essential values and skills applicable to every day life, and provide a positive outlet to street activities.
“Playing ultimate Frisbee taught me perseverance, the meaning of hard work, and how to be responsible for a team,” said Chris Trinh, one of the project founders and 2013 leaders. “It helped me grow as a person. I thought, if Ultimate can do that for me, it can also help someone else.” With the help of Rodwell Kov, a Cambodian native and math teacher at The Northwest School, YUP was created in 2010. The idea was to provide a two-week camp that would both bring the sport of Ultimate to a new audience while at the same time instilling positive attitudes in the youth. Their hopes for the camp were modest. “If there’s just one kid who has a great time at our summer camp and takes away the same lessons that I did, it’s all worth it for me,” said Trinh.
In the Summer of 2011, Trinh’s goal was achieved when YUP ran their first successful camp in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Partnering with Empowering Youth in Cambodia (EYC) – a non-governmental organization that works with young people through four schools in slum communities of Phnom Penh – YUP saw thirteen young, eager teenagers show up to their first day of camp. The next year, Trinh and four new coaches (all from the Seattle area) returned to Cambodia to continue the program. They saw their enrollment triple as fifty-five turned out. “A lot of kids went back to their communities and told their friends about it, and the next day we had more campers. When we went to visit their community, we saw kids throwing discs,” said Trinh with clear delight.
Just as word spread through the young people in Cambodia of how exciting YUP is, the word is spreading in Seattle as well. Young ultimate players from The Northwest School and other local schools are interested in contributing. They see this as a unique opportunity to be a part of something powerful in the ultimate community and a way to share their energy and experience with others. “I loved the fact that everything was done by the coaches,” says Jack Baba, a 2013 coach. “I always wanted to give back in some way because ultimate has given me so much. I wanted to try and spread my love of ultimate.”
The goal for this year’s group of coaches is to build on the successes of the past. One of the unique aspects of YUP is that it is almost entirely student run. Chris Trinh, a freshman at UC Berkeley, and Julia Bladin, a sophomore at Whitman College, are the leaders of this year’s project. While the two of them made selections for the 2013 coaches, they want to guide their younger coaches to push them to take leadership roles when working for YUP. Rookie coaches are encouraged to think of innovative and interesting ways to fundraise and support YUP.
“[Julia and Chris] have been mentors that guide us when we have questions and push us towards meeting deadlines,” explained Mia Bladin, a new coach for 2013. “However, they always expect us to come up with our own ideas. They give us freedom and responsibility to run our own project, while providing us with the support to make it happen.” Whether it’s finding ways to get more “likes” on their Facebook page, creating connections with local club teams like Sockeye and Riot, applying for grants, or volunteering at the Five Ultimate warehouse, all YUP projects are coordinated by the younger coaches.
As the summer approaches, the YUP coaches are striving to meet their goals. The members of the YUP team do not just want to improve the camps for the kids, they also want their camps to evolve into something bigger. Having seen many of the campers fall in love with the game, they believe that a year-round program can be established – a program that will allow for youth ultimate to flourish in Cambodia. The team recognizes that their goal is a challenging one, but having been through the process before, Julia Bladin and Chris Trinh know that their coaches are capable of big things.
“This year’s team has an enormous amount of passion and dedication to the project,” exclaimed Bladin. “You can tell just by listening to them talk about it. And that’s what this project is all about, the excitement that comes with such a contagious passion, a passion that has the ability to create connections on a local level as well as a global level.”
As Trinh further notes, it appears that the hard work by the YUP organizers has paid off. “Reflecting back on my experience as a YUP coach, it has truly been a pleasure to coach these youth for the last two years,” Trinh stated. “They are all great students, they listen to what I have to say and then execute it with enthusiasm, determination, and big smiles on their faces. I couldn’t ask for better campers.”
There is still money to raise, connections to make, relationships to build, and details to finalize. If you are interested in supporting their program, you can visit their site here. By supporting YUP, you are supporting a program that has put their efforts into a meaningful cause.