Children who used to eke out a living scavenging on the rubbish dumps of Phnom Penh will be among the 12-strong Cambodian team taking part in the inaugural Asian School Boys Rugby Sevens Championship at King's Park in Ho Man Tin today.
"We have eight players who come from the poorest of the poor people of Cambodia. They used to spend time on the rubbish dumps trying to forage for things, which would earn money for their families, but today go to school and learn a professional skill," said Xavier Arrillaga, a co-ordinator with French charity Pour un Sourire d'Enfant (PSE), or "For the Smile of a Child".
A French couple started the organisation in 1995 after seeing children forced to eat in the filth of the dump site in Stung Meanchey in Phnom Penh. They began with 20 children, and today PSE is a vibrant community caring for more than 6,000 children every day, among them the majority of the rugby players hoping to make a mark on their first visit to Hong Kong.
And rooting for them will be Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of operations Robbie McRobbie. He visited Cambodia a few years ago with Operation Breakthrough, a juvenile crime-prevention programme run by the local police.
McRobbie visited the dumps on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and called the experience humbling. "The contrast in the conditions between the rubbish dump and the beautiful PSE school was staggering," he said.
Apart from Cambodia and hosts Hong Kong - who will field a squad largely comprising players from ESF schools - other participating teams are from China, Taiwan, Guam, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. The tournament is an initiative of the Asian School Sport Federation.