Former Canberra Raider and PNG Kumul Mark Mom, who is now In-Country General Manager for the NRL in Papua New Guinea, says an NRL-run development program has the potential to improve social cohesion and gender relations in the Rugby League-mad nation.
Speaking in a video recently produced by the NRL for a United Nations (UN) sustainable development forum in Port Moresby, Mom says feedback from teachers and students involved in League Bilong Laif (League for Life) suggests the Rugby League-themed program is improving community attitudes towards girls and women, especially in schools.
"One teacher explained how boys and girls never played together before, and now because of the introduction of the inclusive aspect of our program, male and female students that were once playing separately are now playing together and talking together," Mom explains.
"We're getting a lot of this social cohesion that we need in society, for our society to improve and get better, so that we can all live in a better Papua New Guinea."
The League Bilong Laif program, funded by the Australian government through its aid program, runs in primary school across four regions of PNG.
It uses Rugby League-themed outdoor and classroom activities, designed for girls and boys of all abilities, to capitalise on the popularity of the sport to deliver key messages about respect and education.
The NRL employs 33 Papua New Guinean staff to deliver the program, 42 per cent of whom are female, including two of the four regional Lead Development Officers. The program is also striving to improve opportunities for staff of all abilities, and currently employs a hearing-impaired Development Officer.
To date, League Bilong Laif has reached more than 32,000 participants (48 per cent female) and trained more than 800 teachers (61 per cent female) from more than 80 schools.