In soccer-obsessed Solomon Islands, the OFC Just Play programme is working for a fairer, more inclusive society. It is also making football dreams come true.
Working with children through Just Play, school teacher and Just Play Co-ordinator Gabriel Riotarau bends the rules of football to create a level playing field and make the game fun and inclusive for all.
Enforcing rules like “Two points if a girl scores. One point if a boy scores” allows Riotarau to create incentives to give the girls a kick, and allows the boys to see value in including them.
Honiara Christian Academy Principal Ruth Edwards believes football is a reflection of society and change needs to happen if girls are to get a fair go.
“Especially in Melanesian culture, the boys seem to be the boss all the time,” she said.
“We’ve put in the concept of gender balance. It takes quite a bit of pulling with the boys. But now I’ve seen this correction. They mingle around together, they show respect for each other and they know their rights.”
Gender equality is one of four key aims of Just Play, along with disability inclusion, child protection and combatting non-communicable diseases by promoting a healthier and more active lifestyle.
It is fashioned from research saying values instilled during primary school years have the best chance of lasting for life. Children across five Solomon Islands provinces are now part of the programme.
Riotarau believes he is now living a life he could not have dreamed of growing up in Kiu Village in Malaita Province, where his football obsession was discouraged as a child.
“During those days, we didn’t have access to facilities, even balls,” he said.
“There was a saying among parents: ‘Are you going to eat football?’.
“If you work hard and are committed to it, you can put food on the table but that concept never came to our parents.”
The school teacher has since returned to his village with the Just Play programme, proving the sport has not been a waste of his time.
“I believe there will be a lot more ‘Gabriels’ because of access to facilities and programmes,” he said.
“Not only that, we are raising the youth to be good citizens of this country. It is our paramount motive.”
Edwards agreed, acknowledging the witnessed changes in children’s attitudes after participating in Just Play.
“I know for sure, there will be a change from the ages before us,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to have a great change in our communities, their families and our country.”
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
Story courtesy of Australia Plus