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U.S. Embassy Sports Envoys fight GBV

March 3, 2023

Over the course of one week, the U.S. Embassy Port Moresby used the sport of surfing through the U.S. State Department Sports Envoy Program to raise awareness of gender-based violence. The three Sports Envoys, indigenous Hawaiian surfer and scientist Maluhia Kinimaka, filmmaker and Tic Toc star Alison Teal, and professional videographer and anthropologist Kellen Lovel held surf clinics, visited schools, and held round table discussions about domestic abuse with youth from February 26 – March 3 in Vanimo and Port Moresby.

The program was an opportunity for American professional athletes to raise awareness of what both the U.S. government and PNG local nonprofits are doing to combat the global scourge of gender-based violence which effects households in PNG and the United States.

While in Vanimo, Maluhia, Alison and Kellen not only organized surf clinics for girls and boys of all skill levels, but also spent time listening to women and men share their experiences about the difficult subject of gender-based violence. More than 30 girls and 12 boys discussed topics such as alcohol abuse, education, access to health care, and other issues impacting their community.

Upon their return, the three Envoys shared their impressions of Papua New Guinea at a reception at the U.S. Embassy for high-level PNG officials, heads of foreign missions, heads of multilateral organizations, corporate leaders, and civil society groups. Minister for Tourism Arts and Culture the Honorable Isi Leonard as well as Deputy Governor and head of the Motu Koita Assembly Dadi Toka and the British High Commissioner and the UE Ambassadors were in attendance.  

At the reception, Maluhia, raised in a small village in Hawaii and the first person from her village to go to Stanford University, said that on the very first day of their program, she was told by every participant that GBV was a regular experience – perpetrated most often by their husbands and male relatives for the smallest mistakes, especially when alcohol or other substance were involved. One woman told Maluhia that her husband beat her for not stirring the sugar all the way into his tea, while another woman shared that her husband broke her cheekbone when she failed to present a dry towel to him after a shower.

In her speech, Maluhia said, “In 125 years, the change brought to Hawaii by foreign governments, businesses, and religion nearly destroyed our entire population, our natural resources, and our culture. The loss of our sovereignty and our way of life lead to the development of intergenerational trauma – manifesting as alcoholism, gender based violence, decline of physical health, mental health, poor education, wealth inequality, and high rates of incarceration for our native men. As I spoke to the people of Lido, Malaumanda, and Port Moresby I wasn’t surprised to learn you face the same challenges here.” She went on to say,” Our men are meant to be warriors, protectors, and leaders. Stripping them of their culture and purpose leaves a very confusing and meaningless void. When speaking to women throughout Papua New Guinea, I learned GBV reduced in the absence of alcohol and in the presence of education. Giving men the awareness and the purpose as a warrior, a policeman, who protects his mother, his sisters, and his aunties can lead to empowerment, especially in the younger generations that I have met here. It is the responsibility of leadership and those who profit off this land to allocate funding to better schools and sports programs, which can inspire curiosity, passion, and dedication in the younger generation. Teaching Papua New Guinean children that they are predisposed to alcoholism, substance abuse, and diabetes can discourage them from self-medicating when times are hard. And most importantly, teaching your young ones instead to turn to their inherited songs, dances, stories, languages, to the land, and to their faith for strength and guidance.”

At the reception, Alison Teal said that the women there had never opened up to anyone before about gender-based violence, and shared what the women in Lido village told her, saying, “they said, this is what we ask of you, they asked me to tell their story, because their feeling is that they have to remain silent. The women asked for more education programs in school to help teach about gender-based violence, that this is not right, activities for them to do, because alcohol is 90% of the problem, so if there’s a way there can be more sports, surfing, science, more things they can get involved in, that would make a huge change… and more support as females, to have a place to go, like a safehouse, because they have no place to go when we face abuse from our husbands.”

Program partners included the Surf Association of PNG, Sports Revolution PNG Inc., who are working to unite all 40 national sporting associations in PNG under the common cause of preventing gender-based violence. Mission Aviation Fellowship also supported the program by planning a cultural excursion to the village of Malumanda in Enga Province so that the Envoys could better understand PNG culture.

At the reception, Head of Public Affairs Damian Wampler thanked the Chairman of Sports Revolution PNG John Cholai and Vice Chair Andy Able for their vision and passion combating gender-based violence through sports and launching the social movement called Pink Nose Revolution which aims to promote gender equality in every household through sports. Damian remarked, “I chose to partner with the Surf Association of PNG because they are they only sports association in PNG with a comprehensive gender policy, and with Sports Revolution PNG because this is a PNG-created initiative and grassroots solution. We are proud to partner with Mr. Cholai and Mr. Abel what I hope will be a movement that all 40 sports federations become a part of.”

U.S. State Department Sports Envoys are athletes and coaches who travel overseas to lead programs that were developed by U.S. embassies and consulates. These American athletes hold sports clinics for young people and their coaches, participate in community outreach activities, and engage youth in a dialogue on the importance of leadership and respect for diversity. Sports Diplomacy manages the Sports Envoy programs, working in cooperation with the U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. sports federations, and professional leagues. Sports Envoys are private American citizens who take a break from their jobs as professional athletes to support the U.S. government, receiving only a modest honorarium for their volunteer work abroad.

Images from their one-week program can be found here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAuon4