PASIFIKA UNITE Proves Power Of Community
More than 500 people from Europe's Pacific rugby community turned out for the inaugural Pasifika Unite gathering in France.
Pacific Rugby Players Welfare hailed their first four-day event as a chance to reaffirm the power of community, as players from Test-level to amateur status from across Europe descended on Lourdes.
Chief executive Dan Leo explained an extended chance to focus on issues from mental health to life after rugby had a big boost on the Pacific community in Europe.
“The theme of the whole four days was the subject of mental health, and being able to be vulnerable,” said Leo.
“We have a lot of issues in our community – but the message we wanted to put across is that, actually, all the answers to those issues lie within the community itself.
“It's a reminder that as Pacific Islanders we connect through faith, food, music, art & performing art, family and community. Those are the key pillars to the way of life, and those are still the key ways for us to come together and gain strength.
“All of those things affect our well-being as Pacific people. Without those people can become lost. So this was a great chance for people to come together through those pillars, and over time get to know each other and bring down barriers to be able to broach difficult topics.”
Talks around mental health and professional career advice were set around a backdrop of traditional feasts and cultural and musical performances. Former All Blacks Anthony Tuitavake and Sam Tuitupou captained the Pacific Legends Memorial Match, where players of all levels took the field.
“Mentally-wise we have players and people in our community struggling with depression,” said Leo.
“We've seen a number of suicides over the last five to six years.
“That's the extreme, but between that and the really successful guys at the top you've got a lot of guys who may not be drowning but they are sinking.
“They are finding it really tough and can be in a dark place.
“So it's important for us to meet with and talk to as many players and their families as possible, to be able to show them that help and support is available.
“We have counselling services that the players can use, and it was fantastic to be able to spend time explaining with a big number of players and their families just how we can help.
“To have the kinds of frank conversations that we wanted, you can't manage that in one day.
“But building relationships over several days, breaking down barriers, it proved really impactful.
“People started to open up once they got to know each other.
“We unfortunately don't have the resources to visit every rugby club in France individually, but this way we were able to make contact with a large number of people very quickly.
“And hopefully now they know we are there for them, and that we are here to help.”