With its basketball court, football pitch, tennis court and ninja warrior water sports area, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Siem Reap campus of International Christian Fellowship (ICF) Cambodia is a sports centre.
But while these free, family-friendly activities are one of the church’s big attractions, it also has a deeper purpose.
ICF Cambodia’s founder is Swiss native ND Strupler. He tells The Post he started the church with a desire to help Cambodian families improve their education levels, lifestyle and relationships with one another.
Strupler explains that his long journey with the Kingdom began when he met his now wife Sophal Strupler.
“Everything started when I got to know a girl named Sophal. She was born in Phnom Penh [in 1973] and before the war, she was abandoned as a three-month-old baby.
“A Red Cross nurse from Switzerland found her and brought her into Pol Pot’s hospital and inside the hospital she took care of the baby but nobody came to collect her,” says Strupler, who founded affiliate church ICF Zurich in Switzerland in 1996.
“She tried to find out whom she belonged to, but nobody knew. The war came to the city and all the foreigners had to leave the country.”
Faced with the prospect of leaving the baby in war-ravaged Cambodia, the nurse decided to bring her to Switzerland for adoption.
Sophal grew up in Switzerland, where Strupler met her at the age of 17.
“We met, fell in love, married and started a family. We had never thought about Cambodia. Until we were around 30 years old and the idea came to visit Cambodia for the first time. We came in 2012 and as soon as we arrived we fell in love with the country, the people. There’s something about the people and the hearts that really spoke to us,” he says.
In 2013, they decided to sell their home and move from Switzerland to Cambodia to begin a new life.
“This is how we ended up here in 2013,” says Strupler, who served as a youth pastor for 10 years and then trained church planters for seven years.
ICF Cambodia incorporates the Christian faith into its mission helping Cambodian families, providing a good education and a healthier lifestyle through sports, healthier eating, healthcare and relationship building.
“Through ICF, we bring hope and resources from Switzerland. Young people can grow up and be smart and be capable, dream big and be successful people,” says Strupler.
“Our vision is to empower families. We want to help mothers and fathers be good parents and have good relationship, but also have a safe environment for kids to grow up. So we support whole families.”
ICF’s programmes help whole families to support themselves by teaching them to grow vegetables, eat healthy food, start small businesses and maintain good relationships.
“For children, we do life skills. We teach them about sexuality, how to respect each other and basic things like that. Beyond that, we have a soccer academy and different kinds of sports that we want to empower young people to believe in themselves,” says Strupler, adding that ICF supports more than 200 families.
He adds that ICF works with NGOs on reports of violence and connects directly with village chiefs and police officers to make sure that families provide a safe environment for children.
Strupler says that there are more families in need of help, but ICF wants to expand slowly in the interests of sustainability.
Having now worked in Cambodia for about five years, Strupler joked about his initital struggles to adapt to the Khmer language and culture.
“The beautiful Khmer language is not easy and then there is the culture. I am Swiss and so I needed to learn a lot about Cambodian culture – how to speak, how to listen, how to understand with our words.
“I am happy to be able to do this work in Cambodia. My wife had been saved from the war and now we are here and help hundreds of children and families,” he says.
Now ICF has 77 Cambodian staff members and every weekend it welcomes more than one thousand people to the campus through its various activities.
You can find out more about ICF Cambodia and donate to the organisation via their website (www.icf-cambodia.com).