Achieving positive change through sport

Australian volunteer Anthony Healy shares how the magic of AFL is promoting positive lifestyle choices and improving outcomes for school children in Papua New Guinea.

Two people are playing AFL football and reaching for the ball mid-air. They're wearing team uniforms and smiling in an outdoor setting.

I moved from Melbourne to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 2014, when I took up a position as a science and maths teacher at an international school in Port Moresby. 

I’m a passionate AFL supporter and while I was teaching, I took the opportunity to introduce the students to the magic of football. When I retired from teaching in 2022, it seemed like a natural pathway for me to take on a role with the Australian Volunteers Program as Support Officer at the AFL PNG Development Office.

Working with students between the ages of five and 18, from all backgrounds and with all abilities, I was privileged to be part of a team that rolled out ‘Smart Start Niukick’, AFL PNG’s grassroots development program in schools.

So far, we have reached 32 schools and are projected to reach over 70,000 students nationally by December 2023.

AFL PNG runs skills clinics that work to inspire positive lifestyle choices, with anti-drug and alcohol messaging and nutritional education being a strong part of the program. Their programs also include a strong anti-violence focus, particularly regarding violence against women, due to the high rate of domestic violence in PNG*.

The program has also developed a pathway and training program for elite PNG players with Gold Coast Suns player Hewago Paul Oea a.k.a Ace, and Valerie Mai, top kicker for the Flames - the PNG National Women’s team - being notable graduates from the National Training Academy.

Ace is a bit of a homegrown hero and we have developed a book about him which has been introduced to schools. The children love hearing Ace’s story – seeing a local spotlighted on the world stage inspires them and gives them hope.

Here in PNG, resources and equipment are scarce and the playing fields often look more like carparks. Travelling from Geelong, I’ve brought back around 50 pairs of football boots that my sister collected from the Salvos and other places. The AFL has also been terrific in sending supplies and equipment.

A lot of work is being done to encourage female participation in the AFL and I’m looking forward to the day that we can see one of our program participants going on to participate in the AFLW.

*According to Human Rights Watch.

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