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Street smarts and soccer spurring social shift

Five children listen for instructions from their soccer clinic leader
Morata children listen for instructions from the clinic leader.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

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Complex social problems at the heart of some of Papua New Guinea's toughest communities have led to a bold initiative creating local heroes with street smarts and community credibility.

Social media is buzzing with rumours of a gang attack and stabbing nearby as we head into the heart of Morata. Burnt out car bodies, razor wire and graffiti-covered tin fences line the route. This multicultural community is only about two kilometres from PNG's Parliament House but carries a fearsome reputation.

The locals resent the stereotype. They openly admit crime and violence have long plagued life here, but crave recognition of efforts to break the cycle.

Volunteer trainers being given instructions.
Just Play Trainer Hans Inos teaching volunteers.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"They dwell in the past," says Hans Inos, a long-time local.

"It is really changing. We can't change the whole thing overnight though, so we are trying to bring positive things into this community."

We head up an alleyway and turn into a pleasant, grassy clearing with a pumpkin patch at the far end. Witches hats and bags of balls await use and a group of men and women dressed immaculately in uniforms stand ready to turn this little oasis into a soccer field, playground and education centre.

They are the brave pioneers in the Just Play sport for development program and they are here to train local volunteers to use soccer as a weapon in the fight for a better future. Hans is one of them.

"There were many obstacles and many challenges that I had," he says.

"There are many negative sayings about the Morata community, but we are trying to educate the children to turn away from the negative aspects."

A teacher holds a poster that explains good eating habits.
The Just Play program is educating children and the volunteers that teach them.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

The Australian Aid-supported Just Play program is using soccer to promote physical activity, gender equality and inclusion to primary-aged children across 12 countries.

Here though, social issues are being tackled by training local adults to run the sport for development program within their own communities. They are familiar faces with local connections and an intimate understanding of the dynamics of their neighbourhood.

"They know the background of the community, so they can go back and implement what they [have] been trained in," Just Play PNG Operations Manager Micah Kaneng explains.

"In every community you have different ethnic groups, culture and understanding, so what we are doing is involving the youths and the volunteers because they know much of the information within a community.

"They can get the message across to the kids and become a role model as well."

Children participate in a soccer clinic.
Game time: Just Play ultimately promotes physical activity in children.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

The volunteers listen attentively as their trainers run them through a typical Just Play session, much to the delight of the local children who've been drafted from nearby streets to be a part of it.

Just Play Technical Coordinator Margaret Aka speaks with wonder about the transformation the volunteers undergo.

"They come on the first day and they have no idea," she says, affectionately.

"They've never attended a training in their lifetime. For us to bring Just Play courses to them will help them to also pursue other things in their lives. They can find jobs and help their own families live better lives.

"It is morale-boosting for them and they can uplift their own life in the community."

The volunteers leave empowered with knowledge and responsibility, in many cases for the first time in their lives.

A man holds a baby.
The program is targeting generational change.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Morata is abuzz with talk of street violence, but there is other hot gossip doing the rounds too.

Hans has come home, the kids have been part of something special, some locals are going to run soccer clinics and it's going to happen right here, near the pumpkin patch in Morata.

This story was produced by ABC International Development as part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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