During the recent OFC U-17 Championship in Luganville, Vanuatu the half-time break in every match featured a showcase of talent from children aged six-12 years old who participate in Just Play – including local children with disabilities.
It was the first time performing to the public for many of the children and with daily crowds of up to 6000 people on average it was quite a debut and an excellent way to disseminate the Just Play message of social inclusion.
For participant Simon Vava it was a nerve-racking but rewarding experience to perform.
“I came out in front of a lot of faces. It’s my first time in front of such a huge crowd and I am excited to show myself to people with good arms and legs, as we are just the same,” Vava said.
Vanuatu Just Play project manager George Regenvanu said the turnout for the competition was great as it provided a well-sized audience to showcase the programme to.
“I’m very happy about the turnout and the feedback we’re getting from displaying what the disabled children of Just Play can, and are, getting from the programme,” Regenvanu said. “The expressions on their faces when the crowd reacts to what they can do are just inspiring.”
Not only has Just Play opened up avenues for children, but adults are also finding social inclusion through the programme.
Dephanny Naliupis is a Just Play community facilitator in Vanuatu who also happens to have cerebral palsy.
“Dephanny is a special girl, she turns up to the schools and you have this young, bright girl with cerebral palsy running the sessions, evaluating and coaching the children,” Regenvanu said.
“This is something new that our children, able-bodied children, in Vanuatu have never seen.”
For Naliupis being involved as a coordinator has many benefits.
“I really enjoy Just Play because it provides us with the opportunity to socialise with the others. To have the opportunity to get exposed with the others and have fun with the others, it helps me physically and it provides me with a job,” Naliupis said.
“I am a student and it gives me something to do. Just Play was introduced and I feel like I am being employed, I feel like I have a job to do.
“I would like to thank OFC for the programme because it is giving us all the opportunity to be part of sports.”
Head of social responsibility Franck Castillo said in August 2012 the department defined the logic model to help achieve the inclusion of children with disabilities within the programme.
“For us it’s not only access to activities for children with disabilities, but also changing community perception,” Castillo said.
“People need to accept the difference and by showcasing what children with disabilities are capable of doing during the OFC U-17 Championship, we have achieved this objective.”
Developed by the OFC social responsibility and technical departments, Just Play is designed for children aged six to 12 and promotes physical activity while encouraging community involvement, healthy living, gender equality and disability development.
OFC has worked closely with UEFA, the Australian Government - through its agencies the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) - and Football Federation Australia to implement the programme across the Pacific over a three-year period between 2009 and 2012. It was launched in Tonga and is now also running in American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu.
The confederation has also been working in New Zealand with Special Olympics on a Just Play programme for people with mental disabilities and has launched the same initiative in Samoa and Fiji.
Just Play has reached over 106,000 children - 43 per cent of whom are female - across the Pacific and trained over 2,200 teachers and volunteers.
To view a video created by OFC TV about the Just Play activities at the OFC U-17 Championship click here
For more on Vanuatu football go to www.vanuafoot.vu