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Bill English visits Just Play festival

(L-R): CIFA President Lee Harmon, Just Play Cook Islands Project Manager Michelle Paiti, and New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English.

Over 200 children greeted New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English and Minister of Pacific Peoples Alfred Ngaro when the two leaders visited an OFC Just Play festival at Victoria Park in Rarotonga on Tuesday.

English was over in Rarotonga to announce New Zealand’s support for a number of infrastructure projects to improve Cook Island’s sustainable energy, water and wastewater, as well as boosting education infrastructure.

With the visit’s focus on improving the lives of Cook Islanders – an objective shared by Just Play – Just Play Project Manager Michelle Paiti was more than happy to showcase the success of the partially New Zealand Government- funded programme.

“This was fantastic opportunity for Cook Islands Football to show the New Zealand government that Just Play is very active here in the Cook Islands and that we are utilising their investment wisely with the programme,” she said.

“They’re loving the opportunity, they’re loving the environment, the kids can’t get enough of Just Play at the moment. It’s overwhelming, the response from the children and the parents.”

Coinciding perfectly with the New Zealand government’s efforts to improving access to healthcare and education, Paiti proudly explained to English that the theme of their festival also had a focus on education and health.

“In our community, we have a huge problem with health issues and obesity and diabetes. Today’s message is making healthy choices. For us it’s really important about making sure that the kids stay active every day for 60 minutes plus.”

Although English was a new face to the children, many crowded around when news that a Prime Minister was visiting had dispersed. Just Play participant Alistair Newbigging had a chance to chat to chat to Prime Minister, and used his opportunity to state that English was lucky their meeting did not involve and physical match up because he was probably “too good”.

Finishing his visit on a high with the Just Play children, English left the island nation feeling confident about the progress being made in the Cook Islands and their positive relationship with New Zealand.

“We are fully supportive of the direction that the Cook Islands is going into,” he said.

About Just Play

The OFC Just Play Programme is a sport for development programme that helps children to grow, learn and explore through sport. Just Play gives a child a ball, a coach and a safe place to play. The programme shows children how to have fun with other children, be physically active and become confident in their abilities. Through the integration of social messages, Just Play helps children to develop healthy lifestyle habits, encourages gender equality and leaders in the community, promotes social inclusion and insists on sport for all. For more information on the programme please visit: www.justplayofc.org

The OFC Just Play Programme is designed and monitored by the OFC Social Responsibility Department in partnership with Australian and the New Zealand Governments, the Football Federation Australia, the UEFA Foundation for Children and UNICEF. For more information about OFC or its 11 Member Associations visit: www.oceaniafootball.com

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