Vanuatu’s paravolley tale serves as inspiration

Vanuatu’s colourful tale paints an inspiration to many nations today, from how a volcanic eruption led them to becoming the first Pacific nation in the World ParaVolley family.

The Manaro Voui volcano eruption in late 2017 affected more than 8,000 people and displaced about 3,310 people, including 170 persons with disability, who were gravely affected as their physical activities were further limited.

“The Volley4Change (V4C) staff in Luganville were made aware of the members of that disability community who were in need of activities to help with the effects of displacement and so instigated sitting volleyball activities to help ease those effects,” recalled Vanuatu Volleyball Federation (VVF) media officer Jill Scanlon.

As fate would write it, Vanuatu at the time was also preparing to host the 2017 Pacific Mini Games in Port Vila, which featured Para sports including a standing volleyball exhibition match in its first edition. But that only marked the beginning of paravolley’s promotion in the island nation.

A year after the Pacific Mini Games, the VVF became the fourth national sports federation to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee, formally starting the growth and development of paravolley in the Pacific.

Vanuatu wasted no time and went immediately to work.

“In 2019, World ParaVolley, through ParaVolley Asia Oceania, collaborated with VVF in delivering specifically designed sitting volleyball coaching workshops over six days in two main cities with two senior PVAO coaches invited to deliver coaching workshops,” Scanlon shared.

The World ParaVolley course became a “huge catalyst for growing disability inclusion in sport in Vanuatu, creating opportunities in many fronts,” and also allowed for expansion of the V4C programme.

Since becoming a World ParaVolley member, the VVF has already conducted several sitting volleyball, standing volleyball and beach paravolley training sessions and activities, as well as training courses for coaches and other educators. Furthermore, the VVF was able to tap several organisations and other partners that will join them in all efforts to promote disability inclusion through sport.

However, the road in growing paravolley in the island nation faced some birth pains along the way.

“Community perceptions have always been one of the main hurdles to overcome as those with a disability are often excluded from mainstream community activities.

“Geography also makes delivery of programme elements difficult due to remoteness or accessibility problems. Limited financial and logistical resources can also make it difficult to implement and deliver a full programme,” Scanlon said.

In spite of these roadblocks and even with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges Vanuatu has faced over the last few years can never outweigh the rewards. While the pandemic hampered plans for international courses and regional competitions in Vanuatu, Scanlon said it still allowed VVF to have “more focus to be devoted to the development of disability inclusion elements of the V4C programme and to community programmes.”

Paravolley’s growth in the Pacific does not look to ever slow down. In the short term, Vanuatu eyes continuing its development programmes and activities across the areas of Luganville, Port Vila and Torba, and the long-term plans involve consolidation of their programmes with a potential support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

More importantly, Vanuatu looks to enter the international stage “with the potential of identifying and training Para athletes for national representation in such competitions as the Arafura Games and the Pacific Games as well as participation in coaching workshops.”

Vanuatu continues to inspire many countries with its long list of programmes and long-term vision for paravolley’s growth. The VVF gives credit to its partners, particularly the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee, the Vanuatu Society for People with Disabilities and the Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association  for being on their side in their efforts to promote inclusion.

This inspiring history of paravolley in Vanuatu is anything but a simple tale. Making great strides in just a short span of time, Vanuatu has and wants to continue proving itself as “a strong advocate of inclusion through sport.”

“A strong and inclusive community is a healthy and prosperous community. Volleyball is a game for everyone!”