“I am here today, to fully lend my support to Just Play!” exclaimed Department of Education (DOE) Director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga. “Principals and parents, lend your support to this program.”
Dr. Matagi-Tofiga’s comments were made last Thursday at the opening of the Just Play Program Festival contest at the DYWA’s gymnasium in Pago Pago.
Just Play is an OFC social development initiative aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles and gender equality, increasing opportunities for special needs students and increasing understanding of children protection issues through sport, in particular, soccer.
The Just Play Program was taught in 16 participating public, and one private, schools and culminated in a Just Play festival competition. It is delivered to the schools by the DOE’s Physical Education division, with assistance from FFAS.
“As I was sitting there with some of the teachers and some of the principals, it was kind of emotional for me,” Dr. Matagi-Tofiga pointed out, “because…in reality this is my first time as a director of education…to actually speak to the [students], so thank you [FFAS] for giving me this opportunity.”
“We are hoping that we continue to work together with DOE on this program, Just Play,” FFAS President, Senator Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet, said. “It’s implemented by the Oceania Football Confederation, in partnership with the Australian government, the Football Federation Australia, the New Zealand government, UNICEF and the Union of European Football Association’s foundation for children.”
OFC administers the program, and passes it on to its 11 Member Associations, and that includes American Samoa.
Dr. Matagi-Tofiga praised the program in her speech, in particular, it’s four main objectives, information she gleaned from Sen. Faiivae, and FFAS CEO Tavita Taumua.
The education director told the students: “I’m here looking at all of you putting on your armor suits getting ready to play, [and] you’re telling us at the department of education, ‘We need physical activity!’ And I believe a healthier environment comes with healthier lifestyles, it also means we can try to eliminate Non-Communicable Diseases [such as] obesity.”
Dr. Matagi-Tofiga said during her visits to the schools, she discussed with teachers the sad reality that a lot of the students are overweight. She said the Just Play Program is one program that would encourage students to get active, and eat right.
On gender equality, Dr. Matagi-Tofiga said the Just Play Program perfectly aligns with educational goals encouraged in the US and insular areas of promoting equal opportunities for boys and girls.
On another Just Play objective, which is to increase opportunities and encouraging social inclusion of persons with special needs, the DOE director said she was elated to hear from Tafuna elementary principal Laloleva Polu the participation of a special needs student in the program this year.
“One of my favorites, and this is where my heart is…when Tafuna elementary wheeled her in, it also goes to show the awareness that is there for disabled students to participate, now how magnificent is that,” said Dr. Matagi-Tofiga. “Give yourself a hand if you are promoting that, this is one-awareness for all of us.”
Finally, on the fourth objective of Just Play, child protection, the education director said it’s no secret that children are at risk wherever they are, and teachers and school officials must be vigilant in protecting our kids.
“Just Play [has] one of those pillars that is trying to promote awareness for child protection,” she said. “I believe that when children are involved in a cause, it protects them. When children are involved in a cause, it promotes healthier lifestyles, promotes gender equality, and that is something that right now in the U.S., it’s called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it promotes equality.”
“Like I said, I am here in full support, and I want to thank [FFAS] for bringing this, and I am looking forward to better things that come out of this.”
Senator Faiivae said the soccer association aims to make sure Just Play serves the children well.
“Since it began, OFC has taken a significant effort to becoming a leading organization in using sports for Pacific Island children’s education and development,” continued the FFAS president. “We all know the Just Play is a sport for development programs that promotes physical activity for elementary age children while encouraging social development and healthy living. Through the Just Play program, children will learn and grow and explore sports in a positive and meaningful way, and it’s delivered by teachers and elementary schools during school hours.”
“And I’m glad to hear the director say that she fully supports this program,” he said. “I would like to thank all the principals, all the schools, all our partners, especially director for taking time from her busy schedule to be here with us today.”