Three League Bilong Laif program staff say a recent professional development trip to Australia to learn more about how the NRL runs game development and outreach initiatives will reap wide benefits for the program in PNG.
Lead Development Officer (East New Britain Province) Grace Wilson Michael, Development Officer (NCD) Andrew Stone and National Administration Coordinator Benard Poma recently spent two weeks in Sydney, Brisbane and Gold Coast, as part of the Australia Awards Fellowships program.
Fijian National Rugby League development officers Suliasi Cakautabu and Lagilagi Golea also took part in the fellowship.
Australia Awards Fellowships are facilitated by the Australian Government and offer Australian organisations from all sectors the opportunity to deepen and broaden their links with leaders and professionals in developing countries like Papua New Guinea.
Wilson Michael, Stone and Poma attended workshops exploring how the NRL improves female participation and access for people with disabilities.
They received briefings on NRL approaches to mental health issues and the Cyber Safety Pasifika program, through which NRL players work with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) as ambassadors for cyber safety.
The League Bilong Laif staff also observed Australian-based NRL game development officers running school and community activities, and attended several NRL matches.
"The fellowship was really an eye-opener for me, learning that rugby league is not just about playing, but about so many aspects of life," said Wilson Michael.
"The female participation workshop in particular broadened my knowledge as a female lead development officer. There were so many things I learnt from the female development officers in Australia about gender differences, breaking down barriers and coaching considerations.
"I hope to pave the way for women in the sport of rugby league in PNG to have leadership roles so that they can contribute positively to our community and our country."
Poma said the training on how to recognise and handle mental health issues was particularly useful.
"Rugby league is a powerful tool and our League Bilong Laif program has the ability to reach many children at an important age," he said.
"Children in PNG deserve to be educated about growing issues for our country related to mental health and cyber bullying. As League Bilong Laif staff, it's important that we understand these issues ourselves."
Stone said he hopes to improve League Bilong Laif access for children of all abilities as a result of the fellowship.
"We learnt about ths importance of getting people with disabilities involved in sports and community activities, and how to involve them," Stone said.
"The fellowship broadened my mind and my knowledge, and now I will use what I learnt in schools, my community and the workplace.
"We would like to thank the Australian Government and the NRL for making this trip possible."
NRL Pacific Program Manager, John Wilson, said: "This trip is another example of the NRL’s commitment to developing the Pacific through the Pacific Outreach Program."
"Being able to develop rugby league staff across the Pacific is an integral part of our strategy, and hopefully this successful fellowship trip will serve as a springboard to us working more closely with the Australian Government in the future to provide further opportunity."
League Bilong Laif (League for Life) is a sport-for-development program funded by the Australian Government and delivered by the National Rugby League (Australia) in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The program, a three-year pilot, works with primary schools in four regions of PNG (National Capital District, East New Britain Province, Eastern Highlands Province and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville), using rugby league as a tool to support education outcomes.
It uses a range of rugby league-themed educational and reading materials that the NRL has developed with Macmillan Education Australia that encourage healthy lifestyles and boost students’ physical, social, literacy and maths skills.