Smash Down Barriers: Table Tennis for Social Inclusion in Tonga
PHOTO: TONGA TABLE TENNIS FEDERATION
Smash Down Barriers by the Tonga Table Tennis Federation (TTTF), one initiative of Dream Building Fund 2020, has proven the use of table tennis to promote social inclusion of people with a disability (PWD) in remote villages and outer islands of Tonga. The TTTF employs three pillars in the programme: education, competition, and collaboration. Through regular table tennis exercises, they educate the public and prove the sports skills of PWD could improve their lives.
Smash Down Barriers programme by Tonga Table Tennis Federation (TTTF) began slightly late in September 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters. Aiming to create disability social inclusion, the TTTF believes that a multifaceted, holistic strategy with a variety of major target groups is essential to maximising results and fostering an inclusive environment in Tonga. They kicked off the programme by engaging with key stakeholders to prepare and conduct a community workshop for Key Community Members and Caregivers that focused on creating an inclusive environment for PWD and shifting community's perceptions toward PWD.
Their ongoing initiative, ‘Bounce it Back’, was implemented alongside the initial activities to increase schoolchildren's awareness of PWD. The special aspect of their programme was the involvement of community volunteers as the catalyst in delivering inclusive table tennis courses to targeted communities: children (under 16), youth (16-30 years old), and people with a disability.
To this date, they have trained 12 community volunteers; nine of them are female. It is astonishing that the community volunteers now know how to present entertaining and interesting tennis table activities. Some participants in the programme come from non-sporting backgrounds, but they have developed an interest in teaching children about respect and inclusion, especially for those with diverse abilities.
Inclusive community events and table tennis exercises
In achieving the goal, they conduct regular community events and celebration events, for example, International Day of PWD (IDPWD), where targeted communities gather in a place to learn about inclusion from PWD. The young children and youth who participated in the IDPWD gained knowledge and a greater appreciation for life from PWD who shared personal stories (talatalanoa sessions) about how they live with and manage their disabilities, as well as how sport has enriched their lives and given them hope. Along with these community events, the TTTF currently holds 60-minute weekly table tennis training in three schools across Tonga for eight weeks.
Last week, they held an outdoor training session in the Niutoua Primary school, opposite the Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon, one of the historical landmarks in Tonga. They finally can continue their activities after closure due to the global pandemic and other natural disasters, the Hunga Ha'apai volcano eruption and tsunami, in early 2022.
The local government requested the TTTF to provide psychological well-being support for those lives impacted by the disasters. Upon authorization, the TTTF sent table tennis equipment to the relief shelters in Mango and ‘Atata, allowing people to engage in a safe, inclusive environment through fun table tennis activities. The fun table tennis activities assist people in recovering mentally and socially from the severe effects of the volcanic eruption and tsunami on their lives.
Tonga came back stronger and the TTTF will continue training community volunteers in promoting social inclusion through table tennis and leverage their reach to train more PWD and prepare them to join the international table tennis championships.
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