September 29, 2021

A table tennis ‘Dream Building Project’ was launched with the support of its partners on September 22 in Kolonga, Tongatapu, inclusive of people living with disability. From left to right back row: Moatau Valevale as Guest of Honour, Resident Representative from JICA Hiroaki Takashim, Second Secretary and Vice Consul of the Australian High Commission Ella Scott and CEO of the Ministry of Health of Tonga Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola. Front: Lesieli Mafi, Tonga Para Table Tennis Representative.

Tonga Table Tennis Federation launches the first Dream Building project to be delivered in Oceania. The launch took place on 22nd September at St Joseph’s hall at Kolonga followed by a disability awareness workshop. Dream Building projects are enabled through the ITTF-Foundation support with the focus on using table tennis to assist in contributing to the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs). 

The two-and-a-half-year project will focus on inclusion and improving the quality of life of persons with disability in remote villages and outer islands of Tonga. Kolonga village has more than 40 people with a disability, the highest in the Lapaha district. Using table tennis as a vehicle, the objective is to create a safe and inclusive environment for the players to have an opportunity to learn new skills and to be more active.  The regular sessions seek to provide more interaction for individuals to socialise with other people in the area.  

The Australian Government through the Team Up program is in support of the project, as the Team Up’s ‘Smash Down Barrier Table Tennis Disability Program’ vision aligns by using table tennis as a tool to improve the lives of people with disabilities by increasing levels of physical activity, providing leadership opportunities and promoting social inclusion. The ‘Bounce it Back’ table tennis schools’ program is currently delivered in Nuku’alofa in Tonga and promotes social inclusion. The Dream Building project aims to expand this program to engage with parents, caregivers of persons with disability, teachers and youth leaders from Kolonga in the coming weeks and months to deliver this inclusive educational program to participants in the community. “Australia for many years has invested in sport for development in the Pacific and is pleased to see an increased focus in improving the quality of life of persons with Disability which in turns strengthen the community as a whole,” remarked Ms Ella Scott, Second Secretary and Vice Consul of the Australian High Commission. Representatives from the Governments of New Zealand, Japan, Tonga Health, TASANOC various Government Ministries were at the occasion.

The Guest of Honour Moatau Valevale praised the partnerships that enabled the program to come to fruition and that sport is a great mechanism to include persons with disabilities to society.  Kolonga church ministers, youth leaders, teachers, parents and caregivers of persons with disability are encouraged to come together to break down barriers that keep persons with disabilities at home and away from the rest of the community.

Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola, the CEO of the Ministry of Health of Tonga acknowledged the need to address the important issue of inclusiveness and commended Tonga Table Tennis for using the inclusiveness social approach through sport.  

Following the launch, Project Officer ‘Ofa Pakalani and TTTF staff Siaosi Vaka and Selemaia facilitated a disability awareness workshop for the participants from Kolonga, Niutoua, Afa, Manuka, Navutoka and Nukuleka.  Participant Fifita Lolohea from Niutoua was overwhelmed that there is a sport she feels she can finally take part in and feel comfortable in. “I look forward to learning how to play table tennis. Watching part of Lesieli’s movie today encourages me to get out and get involved in table tennis and enjoy life,” said Fifita.

Ofa Pakalani expressed that it is an exciting time for table tennis: “We are grateful for the work that’s begun with the Ministry of Health through the Community Centre here at Kolonga especially the leadership shown by Molimoli ‘Ofahulu the Community Public Health Officer. We are also grateful to the ITTF-Foundation for funding this program, the Government of Australia and all our partners, we look forward to rolling out the Dream Building program initiative, we do believe that with God by our side, Dreams can come true.”

The Dream Building project was launched at St Joseph’s hall at Kolonga on Wednesday 22 nd of September 2021 by Moatau Valevale as Guest of Honour.
A disability awareness workshop facilitated by Project Officer ‘Ofa Pakalani and TTTF staff Siaosi Vaka and Selemaia following the launch of the Dream Building program.