“Karem faea stik” to spread news from one community to another is an ancient Vanuatu tradition. By lighting a fire stick and holding it up on high, one remote community could pass on a message to another village of important up-coming events. The Vanuatu Paralympic Committee (VPC) has targeted provincial outreach to raise awareness of para sport and Talent Identification in the provinces as major activities in its Strategic Plan for 2019. There are significant sporting opportunities coming up in 2019 with the Arafura Games in April, the Pacific Games in Samoa in June and the World Para-Championships in Dubai. So the VPC has been undertaking a program in Santo and Malekula this week to “karem faea stik” with news about opportunities in para sport.
Of course, that’s not the only reason to “light the fire stick” about para sport. Healthier lifestyles, improving self-esteem, meeting new friends and broadening community understanding of the challenges faced by people living with an impairment are also important outcomes of a Talent Identification Day and advocacy and awareness workshops.
With the organisational support of the Ministry of Justice and Community Services, Wan Smol Bag, the Vanuatu Civil Society Disability Alliance, Provincial Governments and Volleyball Vanuatu, a one day Talent ID program was held this week in Luganville, followed by another in Lakatoro, Malekula.
“We really want to identify new para-sports talent — both athletes and coaches — out in the provinces. It’s much easier to concentrate activities around Vila and not as expensive when your budget is virtually non-existent. Provincial travel is expensive but with 82% of Vanuatu’s population living in rural areas, then that’s where we will also proportionately find people with the potential to represent Vanuatu in international sporting events,” clarifies Margaret Macfarlane, President of the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee. “The Kiwanis Melbourne Cup Ladies Lunch, Credit Corp and the Carbine Club gave us some money earlier this year for Provincial Talent ID and support that we have very carefully utilised to ensure the maximum impact and outreach. It was just great to get out and see the genuine interest in setting up provincial integrated programs where both abled bodied and para athletes train together. Integration means better joint use of resources, equipment, facilities, time and very importantly — coaches. It also means both groups can learn from each other.”
Experienced para coach, Jean Noel Anis, VPC Board member and Sports Development Officer at Wan Smol Bag Theatre worked with Australian volunteer Jessica Richardson, to organize each day’s events.
Jean Noel explains, “This saw basic skills training in safely throwing a javelin or shot put for first timers, warm up sessions and then the more serious activity of actual time and distance trials. Parents and carers came along with the young athletes but also to learn some skills to support training and fitness programs back at home in the village.”
“We’re determined to select our para teams on merit so we are setting up a data base of our para-athletes with addresses, impairment category, contact details and results. Once we’ve collected these from trials in Santo, Malekula, Tanna and Efate, we’ll select the team for Arafura Games of new athletes plus the team for Samoa,” said Jessica. “In lock-step with this process, we’ll identify coaches and support them with coach training and an equipment kit. The Australian High Commission has previously donated a training set of javelins, shot put, stop watches, cones, measuring tape which we have tried to split up between the provincial centres.”
“I know it sounds strange but our biggest problem maintaining a consistent para-training program is bus fares. Our young para athletes cannot walk long distances to training venues and some must be accompanied by carers. There’s a duty of care issue too with our young girls,” Margaret points out. “We need funding for bus fares to get the parathletes to regular training with their coaches. When you think about it, 300 vt return twice a week for 30 weeks of the year is 18,000 vt. If we have 5 in a squad, that’s 90,000 vt a squad per year and if we have 4 provincial squads, we need to fund raise 360,000 vt for transport. Of course in the provinces, return bus fares can be even more expensive. It’s daunting.”
Jean Noel joins in, “And that’s just for once a week training! So, we have to tell them to train at home on other afternoons because we just don’t have the bus fares.”
With around 30 potential para-athletes and people interested in volunteering for para coaching attending the Talent ID sessions, it’s now a matter of not only raising money for bus fares but also organizing training schedules and undertaking the hard work of practice for the parathletic’s squads identified in the four provinces with firm plans to repeat the process early next year to “karem faea stik long parathletics” to Penama and Torba.