PORT MORESBY - Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. There are over 800 known languages in the country, of which 12 have no known living speakers. Most of the 7 million plus population live in customary communities, which are as distinct as the languages. But there is one thing that has the ability to wash away these differences, basketball.
"Basketball and sports in general, is a very important part of life in PNG because it brings all the communities together," commented PNG native and FIBA Development Manager - Oceania Annie La Fleur. "PNG culture is very tribal and about villages and the separation between them, so this is a great way of bringing them all together."
The BFPNG's Hoops for Health program is helping the people of these communities break down these barriers through basketball. The program reached 3,131 participants between April-December of last year and the six-week pilot Twilight Basketball program reached over 2,000 participants. It doesn't matter what tribe or village people come from; they are all equal on the court.
The people of Papua New Guinea are taking notice of the positive impact that basketball is having on the community.
FIBA's Catherine Grawich and Annie La Fleur recently visited Papua New Guinea for a coaches' workshop conducted by BFPNG in conjunction with Oceania Sport Education Program.
"As I entered Port Moresby Airport and made my way through customs, I talked with the customs officer," Grawich recalled. "I told him I had come to work with the basketball federation."
"Oh, they are doing a lot of good things aren't they?" the customs officer replied.
Grawich thought the officer was making a comment on PNG's recent success at an elite level.
"Yes, but," he continued, "they are giving back to the community. Such great work."
The coaches workshop was a great success with record numbers in attendance.
"It [the workshop] was extremely well received by participants, they see a need for more trained coaches in PNG," stated Grawich. "Participants were from many different provinces, not just Port Moresby. They were all seeking ways to better their communities through the coaches and role models associated with basketball."
BFPNG are improving the quality and popularity of the sport in country. By doing so they are making the community and people’s lives better for it.
"Basketball gave me something to look forward to and something to belong to," La Fleur said of her time growing up in PNG. "It got me through a tough time in my life as a youngster and it gave me purpose. I was very shy and reserved and didn't make friends easily so it was an avenue to meet and make new friends."
This is the focus for BFPNG moving forward, engaging the youth of PNG through the brand new Piknini Hoops program aimed at children of a very young age, and returning the immensely successful Twilight Hoops program again in May.