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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Rugby fan and father-of-two Chris never thought a raffle ticket he bought at a ChildFund fundraising lunch three years ago would lead to an eye-opening and rewarding journey through Vietnam for him and his family.

Chris, his wife Natalie, and their two sons, Harry and Jamie, travelled to Vietnam in October 2022 to see ChildFund Rugby’s sport for development Pass It Back program in action. The Sydney family met and heard from children and rugby coaches, mostly girls and young women, from disadvantaged backgrounds about how the programs had helped to change their lives.

“The program presents a tremendous opportunity for both coaches and players alike,” Chris says. “It was incredibly powerful to see the huge positive impact that ChildFund is having on these disadvantaged communities in Vietnam. Many of the coaches and players come from families who are living on less than 1,000 US dollars a year and the program provides them with life-changing opportunities as paid rugby coaches on the Pass It Back program, and leadership and life skills for the young players.

“What is even more remarkable is that coaches and players, supported by ChildFund, are given the rarest of opportunities to travel overseas and play in international tournaments. It is hard to imagine how incredible that experience must be; coming from small, rural villages and then suddenly being able to travel to other parts of the world to play rugby under the ChildFund program.”

“It was superb to see the program in action and its values and life skills being brought to life during a training session that we were lucky enough to participate in.  What made it even more special was seeing first-hand the passion and joy of all the players and coaches during the session.”

Chris and his partner Natalie, and sons Harry, age 7, and Jamie, age 4, visiting a ChildFund-supported primary school in rural Vietnam.

Chris and his family also visited a primary school where ChildFund and community members had worked together to build toilets and a clean water system for local students. Harry, age 7, and Jamie, age 4, introduced themselves to a class and joined in with games during the lunch break. “The children didn’t speak one another’s languages, but they shared a common language of play and laughter and quickly headed off to the makeshift cubbyhouse in the playground,” Chris says.

Four-year-old Jamie joins in the fun and games with ChildFund Rugby’s sport for development program in Vietnam. “I can’t think of anything more rewarding than giving my kids the experiences they got from the trip,” his father, Chris, says.

It was Harry and Jamie’s first time in Vietnam and visiting developing communities. Adapting to a new cuisine was sometimes challenging but the boys welcomed most of their experiences in Vietnam with a sense of curiosity and enthusiasm. 

“I can’t think of anything more rewarding than giving my kids the experiences they got from the trip,” Chris says. “We wanted to give Harry and Jamie a perspective that was different to their privileged and comparatively sheltered life on the beaches of Sydney and to help them develop an appreciation of what they have and a greater perspective on life.”

“Now that we’re back in Australia, we reflect on these things almost daily.”

The trip has inspired Chris and his family to continue giving back and supporting children in need. “We have been asking ourselves how we can do more work with charities that are really making a positive impact like ChildFund,” Chris says.

They are already planning their next trip with a focus on how they can visit another ChildFund community again, roll up their sleeves and make a positive contribution.

“I’m so grateful that it was my family that was given the opportunity to spend time with so many of the inspirational ChildFund team members and the amazing children who benefit from the program every day,” Chris says. “For the whole family it was an eye-opening experience, especially for the kids, and has only inspired us all to do more and continue to pass it back.”

Chris and his sons experiencing ChildFund Rugby’s Pass It Back program first-hand with a game of tag rugby. “The program presents a tremendous opportunity for both coaches and players alike,” Chris says.

RWC2021 ends with a resounding victory for all women and girls in rugby

Auckland, New Zealand – At Eden Park stadium, no seat was empty as more than 40,000 people cheered on teams during the finals of the Rugby World Cup 2021. One team emerged victorious, but for child rights organisation ChildFund, this was also a victory for women and girls in rugby everywhere. ChildFund Rugby is the first ever Principal Charity for the women’s edition of Rugby World Cup.

“The RWC Women’s Edition broke so many records and the sell-out final was a perfect end to the event, which has supercharged the women’s game around the world. Seeing these athletes in action on and off the pitch has inspired women and girls across the world – including young women in New Zealand as part of leadership development across ChildFund Rugby partners,” said ChildFund Australia CEO, Margaret Sheehan.

“This event showed that rugby is truly a game for all – the levels of excitement generated from the event and the work of athletes off the pitch to be positive role models has been incredible, and we are proud to have played a part in the event.”

Playing for impact

In-line with RWC2021 and in the lead up to the finals, ChildFund Rugby started a campaign calling for gender equity through rugby. Titled Play for ImpACT, the campaign underscored the significant role women and girls play in the world of rugby and the importance of challenging negative gender stereotypes on and off the pitch.

ChildFund Rugby Partners, Ambassadors, and other supporters echoed the call for gender equity. The likes of rugby superstars Honey Hireme-Smiler, Mandisa Williams, and Charlotte Caslick talked about the impact of ChildFund Rugby’s partnerships on women and girls in rugby, after visiting the child rights organisation’s partners in Fiji and South Africa.

“The girls are starting to speak up for themselves on how this impacts their lives and their development into a young strong woman,” said Hireme-Smiler in an interview, after visiting the girls of Get into Rugby PLUS – Fiji.

For ChildFund Rugby’s part, the support of Hireme-Smiler, Williams, Caslick, ChildFund Rugby Ambassadors Aimee Sutorius, Mere Baker and Emily Chancellor, along with the rest of the global rugby family can do so much to help future rugby superstars – at all levels of the game.

“By supporting ChildFund Rugby’s partnerships, you can create positive, evidenced impact through rugby. Your support will help young people, girls and boys, learn and practice skills that lead to positive decision making, gender equity and it will inspire the next generation of leaders through rugby,” said Chris Mastaglio, ChildFund Rugby Director.

WHANGAREI, NEW ZEALAND – OCTOBER 15: During the Pool C Rugby World Cup 2021 match between France and England at Northland Events Centre on October 15, 2022, in Whangarei, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Going global

A week before the last 80 minutes of RWC2021, dozens of women rugby leaders from different corners of the world travelled to New Zealand for Grassroots to Global Connect – a forum bringing together community leaders in rugby from around the world to build their leadership and advocacy skills.  The women leaders from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, USA, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Australia, Kenya, and Nepal are all part of the Grassroots to Global Series.

The Grassroots to Global Series unites female community rugby leaders from across countries and regions to improve the environment for girls and women at all levels, toward achieving World Rugby’s ambition of equity on and off the field.

The G2G Global Connect Forum held in New Zealand gave opportunity to the community-based women leaders to identify and challenge barriers to their participation in rugby. The forum also strengthened the community leaders’ global network of women in rugby.

“The past nine days had been physically exhausting but emotionally fulfilling. It feels so empowering and humbling to be working with a group of women from all over the world who face the same challenges in sport,” said Lia Calingacion after the forum. Calingacion is a G2G representative from the Philippine Rugby Football Union.

“In the past four to five years of getting to know women’s rugby and finding my place in it, I now know why the sentence ‘I’m with you’ exists in rugby. Women rugby athletes and movers back each other up through challenges on and off the field. Women’s rugby is a fast-growing sport, and other people have yet to know that there is an awesome community behind this sport,” she added.

Rugby World Cup 2021 may have already ended with those 80 herstory-making minutes, but for ChildFund Rugby Partners, Ambassadors, and the global rugby family, this is just the opening whistle to the continued rise of women and girls in rugby.