How partnership working is helping dreams become reality in Tonga
A group of boys and girls of about eight or nine years-old are dribbling hockey balls across a grass field that is more suitable for animal grazing. They are wearing regular school uniform and have no shoes, socks or shin guards. Smiling and laughing, the coach helps them adjust their grips on the sticks, shows them how to change direction and cheers when they complete an intricate skill. Later the same group are playing an enthusiastic game, shooting into a goal fashioned out of old pieces of wood and skilfully avoiding the tussocks of longer grass.
Take the enthusiasm of the coach, the excitement of the children and add a healthy dose of support from larger organisations and this is how a dream of international hockey competition starts to become a reality.
Partnership working is really paying off in the island kingdom of Tonga. Hockey in the South Pacific nation is benefiting from an alliance between the Oceania Hockey Federation and Hockey Australia, which in turn is an initiative funded through the International Hockey Federation's (FIH) Target Assistance Programme (TAP) and the Pacific Sports Partnership (PSP).
The man who is leading the movement on the ground is Hiko Fungavaka, who has spent years working as a development officer across a whole range of sports on behalf of Tonga’s National Olympic Committee. Now, Fungavaka has decided to focus on just one sport – hockey.
“When I was working across all sports, I sometimes used to think that if I instead put all my efforts and talents into one, it would rise up,” said the Development Officer. “That is why I chose hockey.”
Two years later and hockey is thriving in areas of Tonga. There are daily hockey sessions in kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools across Tongatapu, the main island in Tonga. These are followed by hockey training in the local villages and culminates with a session for adults at the local club.
Not only do these sessions involve teaching the children skills and match-play but Fungavaka is also using the hockey sessions to teach life skills, such as how to lead a healthy life.
“Hockey is new to the Tongan people,” says Fungavaka, as he watched a class of boys and girls playing an energetic match on the grassy school playing field. “But the Tongans are talented in all sports. Once they learn the skills of dribbling and hitting, they just want to keep playing.”
Fungavaka has big aspirations. Last year he introduced a secondary school hockey competition and from there he is planning to select and train a national team to participate at the Oceania qualifiers for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games 2018. The qualifiers will take place in Papua New Guinea and the Youth Olympics will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
For the children who are currently benefiting from the huge enthusiasm and energy levels of Fungavaka, this might seem no more than a dream. At present there are few facilities and not much hockey equipment; the communities are spread across a huge number of islands; and transport links to other countries are limited. And these are just a few of the challenges that the coach and his players face. But witnessing the strides forward that Fungavaka has already made in hockey development and with the backing of a network of organisations this is a great example of how determination can overcome the greatest of challenges.
This development project activity aligns with the International Hockey Federation's 10-year Hockey Revolution strategy which aims to make hockey a global game that inspires the next generation. For more information about the Hockey Revolution, click here.
To find out more about hockey in Oceania, visit the Oceania Hockey Federation website.