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Simaima Taufa making her voice heard in anti-violence campaign in Tonga

It wasn't until Simaima Taufa saw her face next to Tonga’s national hero, Jason Taumalolo, that she realised the importance of the mission she was on.

Taufa headed back to her birth place as part of the NRL's Voice Against Violence (VAV) program to continue the conversation around gender-based violence and gender equality, through the language of sport.

The Jillaroos lock said her reasoning for being involved in the trip was to be part of the change that the anti-violence program is going to bring for young girls and women in Tonga.

"For a long time in Tonga girls didn't play contact sport – it was also a bit of a taboo topic like domestic violence," Taufa said.

"When I saw the billboard I was shocked, I couldn't believe it was my face on it next to Jason Taumalolo - I was so humbled by it.

"I'm not one to like having my face everywhere but when I started seeing the impact it had in the local primary schools we visited, the reason I was over there become more apparent to me.

Jillaroos player Simaima Taufa has strong ties to Tonga.
Jillaroos player Simaima Taufa has strong ties to Tonga. ©NRL Photos

"Not only did these young girls get to see a female rugby league players in front of them, so did the young boys. And not only is domestic violence an issue that women need to speak up about but the men have a very important role to play in the preventing of it as well.

"We no longer want this to be a taboo topic, we want people to talk about it, be aware of the issue and know that their voice matters.”

Former Raiders captain Alan Tongue and members of the NRL Community team accompanied Taufa to Tonga, to link up with the Tonga-based program deliverers, the expert partners and local organisations to discuss modifications to the program and how it has been tracking since it launched in September last year. 

During their stay they also delivered the program to local rugby league clubs, the Tongan and Australian defence forces, while visiting local schools and participating in a screening of Power Meri.

NRL Community Manager, Steve Meredith, said since the program kick-started last year he had seen a real change in attitudes towards the NRL starting this conversation in Tongan communities.  

"What is most pleasing is that the journey has started for us now in Tonga, with a great momentum of advocates and the support services," Meredith said.

"Some of our expert partners initially wondered how rugby league could play a part in violence prevention but now after seeing the program being delivered they understand the power of sport to support them in their efforts.

"You go from no conversation to actually talking to young men through rugby league."

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The Talitha Project is one of many expert partners of the program in Tonga, who are committed to empowering young women ages 10-24 to make informed decisions through informal education, life skills and development programs.

The Founder of the Talitha Project, Vanessa Heleta, said she is thankful that the NRL has brought together different stakeholders to tackle this serious issue.  

"Bringing us all together with different stakeholders really speaks for the vision itself – the vision of one voice," Heleta said.

"We are all here because we love the youth of our country, and what better start than to create a prevention approach that changes the lives of our young people to allow them to become the best young man and young women they can be, so we can become a prosperous society."