Siem Reap is known for the millions of tourists flock to the site just to catch a glimpse of the sun rising above the famous Angkor Wat, and rightly so! However there is another side of the city of Siem Reap that is rarely talked about – the thriving community of expats here of all ages and in many professions. The motives behind each expats move to Siem Reap is varied, however I have found the majority have a common thread – to contribute to the local community and economy in the best way they can.
The Siem Reap Boxing Academy is a project started up by an expat from Geelong, Australia who decided to come to Siem Reap for a 3-month stay but within a month decided that the city would be his residing home. After doing very little travel outside of Australia, Blake noted that his;
‘first impressions of Siem Reap were very warming and the people here are extremely friendly. I was a little nervous and was not sure what to expect but the locals welcomed me with open arms and if I needed any help with anything I would always be assisted by people that I had only just met which made me love the place instantly!’.
Boxing has always been a sport associated with helping young men and women to dedicate themselves to the craft and direct their energy to a constructive activity.
For Blake, the idea of starting a boxing academy came about after meeting some kids who had their own challenges in their personal lives. As a boxer himself, Blake immediately understood that the sport of boxing is a perfect way to shape young kids into respected young adults. The sport provides these kids with the tools to grow with confidence and stick to a healthy routine of study during the day and the opportunity to enjoy training in their free time. Blake created a strong bond with the kids coming through the gym;
‘Some of the kids I have trained/training have been subject to forms of abuse, others have no family members and others have just been lacking self-esteem and confidence within themselves. At the start of the academy program each kid received a personal logbook which they could express how they would feel by writing it (as best as they could) and I would sit down to have a chat with them after training each week, even if it was just about life in general and nothing to do with boxing, I created a very strong bond with the kids coming through the gym.’
The Boxing Academy started in a small shoe box sized garage with a handful of equipment, a punching bag and a few skipping ropes shared between roughly 20 kids that showed an eagerness to learn. With some generous support from the Australia Institute of Sport who donated some equipment, the Academy has moved to a larger training space and more improved Gym. The journey has however not been without its challenges;
‘The most rewarding part for me is watching them persevere and overcome the challenges by believing in themselves and how they hold themselves in the gym is how I would like them to present themselves growing up’.
Boxing teaches you to realise that whether it be in the ring or in life, an individual has the power to make decisions which will help them realise their goals. Blake strongly believes that the kids react positively to the training which assures him that boxing is empowering these kids to be successful in whatever field they choose to dedicate themselves.
For many, a safe comfortable environment is unattainable and boxing is simply a tool to help empower people to better themselves. Blake’s work here in Siem Reap is one of the many stories from expats who are contributing positively to the community they call home.