The WASH Festivals Tour of Fiji has exceeded all expectations with more than 5000 children participating in 29 festivals held across nation since mid-October.

Launching on Global Handwashing Day, the Tour of Fiji saw the social responsibility and football development departments at Fiji Football Association collaborating to bring important Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) messages to the wider Fijian community.

“I personally think the Tour of Fiji was a success, not just for the Just Play Programme but for Fiji FA as a while,” said Fiji FA Just Play Programme Manager Lavenia Yalovi.

“At the beginning our target was 20 festivals. We ended up staging 29 festivals altogether and that included reaching out to three new islands, remote islands where football either doesn’t exist, or they’re hard islands to reach in terms of sports,” Yalovi said.

The festivals were part of the community outreach and engagement activities the football association has been running in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The schools and communities we go to, during that one-hour festival, we have 10 stations and we ask the children, ‘what are some of the messages learned?’ and about 80 per cent of those messages on WASH, or water, sanitation and hygiene objectives, they are answering.

“That’s not just because it’s our objectives with Just Play, but it’s in line with the curriculum in schools and the COVID-19 messages the Ministry of Health want to reinforce in schools and communities in schools,” Yalovi said.

“Those are basic hygiene topics which should become a routine for children, with or without adult supervision. They should just be automatically washing their hands before eating, coming back from the washroom, and all those messages under WASH.

“We can say it’s a success from our side and we’re blessed in the sense that we are able to reinforce those important messages, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

Running 29 festivals in four different divisions – northern, southern, western and eastern – required a lot of logistics, travel and long hours, however Yalovi said the team relished the opportunities, as well as the challenges, the tour presented.

“From the Just Play side we have seven full-time staff and we take on board the community volunteers residing in each division, so between four to seven volunteers for each festival – although we would love to engage more,” Yalovi said.

“We are thankful that the Fiji FA football development officers like William Sikuri, plus Vani Buadromo and Epeli Codro on the western side, could participate too running skill sessions where they focus on passing or basic goalkeeping.

“They bring in experience, vast knowledge and a different perspective that can help us come up with strategies to deliver holistic festivals which include football skills in a way that engages all the children.”

Yalovi said although the team is well staffed with volunteers, she’s always on the lookout for more and encourages people interested in joining them to get in touch.

“I would love to have more volunteers especially because we are sometimes caught by surprise. We target 200 children, but 500 or 800 turn up,” she said.

“Although we strategise and break them up into classes, we feel that in order to implement quality activities we would love to have more hands, more human resources and staff on-hand.”

While the Fiji Just Play Team are winding down their activities for 2020, the success of the Tour of Fiji has inspired them.

“From the Just Play side, we would like to thank all our financial donors for giving us the support, especially monitoring support, to carry out the Tour of Fiji. Also, OFC, Fiji FA, all the head teachers and heads of communities.

“Not forgetting Fiji FA football development office, all the volunteers and staff who worked tirelessly, braved the sun and rain and travelled to remote communities. Even though we had some setbacks along the way, the never-give-up attitude, the winning attitude and also the feeling to improve children’s lives through football are what saw us through and helped us to achieve more than what we targeted with these Tour of Fiji Festivals.

“We look forward to continuing in the future and hopefully something we can run again to keep interest in Just Play, to get children continuing in football and to reach out to remote communities.”