When it comes to organising social responsibility and legacy activities around an event nothing comes easily.
Which is what makes the school visits being held alongside the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship such an impressive feat.
Cook Islands Football Association Just Play Project Manager Michelle Paiti organised for each of the competing nations to be adopted by a local school.
This meant visits from the teams upon their arrival in Rarotonga which led to some jubilant cultural exchanges from both the children and the visiting athletes.
Paiti said the objective was to share Cook Islands culture and give the players a glimpse into local school life, but also to give the kids some new and exciting role models.
“The schools are adopting the countries which visit them and will support them during their matches at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship,” Paiti said.
The students have certainly stepped up to the plate.
On Monday 2 September Fiji played the hosts Cook Islands, but the chants from the Fijians’ adopted fans from St Josephs Catholic Primary School could have had you thinking you were in Fiji.
“A large part of our school is actually a Fijian community, so while it is an adopted country here, that is where a lot of our students come from, so probably hence the excitement to see them come to our school,” the principal Shelly Berry siad.
“And also our girls are particularly excited as it’s great for them to see some female role models at our school.”
For Fiji’s Koleta Likuculacula, receiving such a warm welcome was a humbling experience.
“Being the captain for this team this an exciting journey for me to be welcomed by this awesome school, I know we can do this with these awesome supporters here in Cook Islands who are all Fijians for now, but I know when we all go back, we’ll be all Cook Islanders.”
Providing new role models was an important aspect of the visits, especially for the young girls.
“It’s really important not only for our girls but for our boys, just to see that there are opportunities and pathways in football,” Paiti explained.
But the kids certainly aren’t the only ones who will take something long-lasting away from these visits.
Tahiti’s Tiarehinano Tekakioteragi said exchanging cultures with the young students of Apii Te Uki Ou was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the team, which made it important and special.
“An experience like this doesn’t come around often, maybe it’s only once in our lifetime, so it was important to participate,” she said.
“I was moved, it gave me goose bumps, if the opportunity ever comes up again I wouldn’t say no.”
School visits are not a new concept, but this has certainly been one of the most successful of recent times in Oceania and the credit has to go to Paiti and her team.