“From a young age, I had noticed that I was naturally strong, fast and could play competitively in my chosen sport,” says Tahina. “My parents encouraged my two younger sisters and me to play sport and got us into athletics.”
Grass Skirt grassroots campaign was born out of a need to give back something to the country she loves and its people.
A look at her achievements reveals why she chose sports as a medium for social change. Basketball, volleyball, and tennis are the some of the sports she played. Rugby league, American football, powerlifting and weightlifting have won her accolades, fame and appreciation.
Tahina’s commitment and inner strength helped her cope with a career-threatening shoulder injury. A 12-week rehab program that involved lifting weights paved the way for a new innings as powerlifter. She broke Australian deadlift record of 196kg and was soon training for Olympics weightlifting.
Encouraging women to storm the play-fields
Tahina is a proud Pacific Island woman with maternal roots in Iokea Village, Kerema in Gulf Province. While her father was from Warwick, Queensland, she grew up in Lae, Port Moresby and Solomon Islands and moved to Brisbane as a 9-year-old.
Grass Skirt project was created after the South Pacific powerlifting games trials. “I had young children coming up to me and wanting to know how to get strong,” she says. “PNG has so much natural talent, and it was from that moment that I realized that these kids just need an opportunity, and I was going to help in some way.”
When she is not training, competing or working, she is busy encouraging more women to play sports. Her organisation gathers new and old sports equipment, clothes, shoes and accessories in Australia and ships them to sports clubs and schools in Papua New Guinea.
How did the project become a reality?
Her first fundraising attempt was at Sydney’s sports clubs. She shared the story of Olympic finalist, Loa Dika Toua and the urgent need of sports equipment for Toua and her 50 athletes. This encouraged people to donate.
LDT Weightlifting will be the first recipient of donated equipment. The girls training there will get 500 kg of material from specialty equipment and barbells to weightlifting shoes, suits and training bras.
Tahina attributes the success at crowdfunding and donations to her network of friends who use social media to spread the word. She also acknowledges the emphatic and giving spirit of the Australian community.
Her dedication is apparent from this episode. The person assigned with transporting equipment from Sydney to Brisbane failed to show up. Tahina hired a van and along with a friend drove it to Brisbane. They dropped off the goods, and immediately returned home to get some sleep before getting ready for work.
Future initiatives of Grass Skirt campaign
At least two shipments of equipment are expected in 2017. They are working on collecting rugby league, powerlifting and weightlifting equipment requested by Port Moresby’s women teams.
Other strategies include corporate sponsorship from Australian and Papua New Guinea companies. She hopes to extend support to other South Pacific nations in the long term.
Spreading awareness and bringing social change
Domestic violence and sexual assaults are a serious problem in Papua New Guinea with around 70% of women experiencing it in their lifetime.
Grass Skirt project will partner with local NGOs in 2017 to spread awareness about this social evil. Education, gender equality, and more opportunities for women can help prevent many of these incidents.
How to contribute or seek aid
Anyone with access to Facebook or Instagram can approach the organisation with equipment call outs. Use these links –
Individuals and companies interested in contributing money can visit their crowdfunding page.
Tahina’s Message for women in PNG
“This has changed my life for the best.” she says. “Sport gave me a voice and taught me resilience. I want PNG women to feel and know they have it too.”