As Tonga came out of a State of Emergency, the Tonga Football Association was ready and waiting with an adapted programme of activities to ensure there was plenty to keep children active and engaged.
Among those activities was a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the Just Play Programme which saw the Tonga Just Play team engaging with schools across the entirety of the Kingdom to deliver festivals to Classes 1 to 4.
Tonga Just Play Programme Manager, Palu Uhatahi Tuamoheloa, said over the past few months her team have been delivering daily festivals to 77 primary schools across four different islands.
“During these three months within the main island there’s 45 primary schools, 20 in Vava’u, and six each in Ha’apai and ‘Eua, and we were running up to nine festivals a day, for nine different primary schools,” she said.
“Logistically, it’s been a lot of work and there’s been a lot of challenges but we have received a lot of positive feedback from the schools involved.”
Running so many festivals in a week has meant Uhatahi Tuamoheloa and her team of coordinators and volunteers have become very well acquainted with the material they are delivering.
“From Monday to Friday, we know exactly what we are doing in terms of running the sessions on WASH because we deliver the same session in 45 different schools over the course of the week. If you ask me to demonstrate the eight steps to hand-washing, it comes very easily to me now,” she said.
One of the biggest difficulties the Just Play team encountered was managing the logistics of catering to so many schools and children in such a short time period.
Uhatahi Tuamoheloa said having a strong team dynamic and the ability to be flexible has certainly helped in some of the more challenging situations.
She’d also like to eventually recruit more volunteers in the new year to assist with delivering the growing programme.
“Recently I recruited a new coordinator in Vava’u and we have about 14 volunteers there too. In the main island we have 24 volunteers, 15 in Ha’apai and the same in ‘Eua,” she explained.
“Looking at the number of volunteers, it’s tough to cater to the number of children in the primary schools. We have maybe 50-100 children in some schools. The maximum number of volunteers we have for any one school is maybe four, so that’s one volunteer per class except in some of the bigger schools like Nuku’alofa Primary, where there’s more than 200 students.
“And I really felt for the volunteers over these three months on the ground because they’ve all worked really hard to accomplish the whole initiative. That includes spending four hours a day on the field, that’s not an easy task so I take my hat off to them as they have done a great job.”
Uhatahi Tuamoheloa said she’s recently recruited volunteers from Nuku’alofa-based football clubs for the first time, and having the additional technical talent has made a difference in some of the sessions.
“We work closely with the technical department at Tonga Football Association and they will often come and run the technical football sessions. We noticed that the kids are always very interested when the development officers come, they show a lot of interest and are pleased to have someone from football teaching them how to play.
“We hope having football players as volunteers will also assist with drawing greater interest from the participating children,” she said.
In addition to the Just Play Festivals in Government Primary Schools, the Tonga Football Association has also been collaborating on the Government Primary Schools football competition, being run for classes 5 and 6.
“It’s not the same children taking part in the festivals, but the next age group up,” Uhatahi Tuamoheloa said.
“There are 15 players per team and 45 schools took part, every school on Tongatapu was represented. It went really well and, of course, there are probably a few things that can be amended for next time but we can see that there is a lot of potential in the children from almost all of the participating schools.”