(Originally published on VolleyballAustralia.com)

Volleyball Australia, supported by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and in partnership with Women Win and Girl Determined (Myanmar), will implement a volleyball and leadership tour in Myanmar this May. The tour will focus on building girls’ and women’s leadership in volleyball and promoting cultural exchange between the two countries. It’s the first time an event like this has been held in Myanmar, and will include a training camp for 40 local female volleyball coaches.

After an expression of interest process and almost 30 applicants from Australia wide, the team selected to represent Volleyball Australia and Australia was assessed on their history, past volleyball experience, and other relevant experiences. “Sport is such a fantastic medium to not only break down barriers but to be able to build up people and to build up communities,” head coach Sange Carter said. “I am delighted to be appointed as the head coach of such an important tour, not only for volleyball in the Oceania region, but for developing positive environments and opportunities as well. Working with the group of coaches, athletes and diplomats in Myanmar over the 10 days will allow us to share knowledge, strategies and be able to work on implementation in the region with positive change being the focus and volleyball being one of the pathways.”

Carter said the tour will also be a fantastic opportunity for the Australian participants to get a better understanding of the local volleyball environment, and to see how strategies can best be implemented. “It is very rare for an international volleyball tour to spend more than a few days where they are not either training or competing at the venue of competition,” she said. “This tour will allow the athletes to experience the culture of the region, the issues that face developing nations, and how to implement strategies with a focus on creating change rather than just focusing on performance.”

Carter is confident the tour will have benefits for many years to come, not just on the communities in Myanmar, but also for the Australians taking part. “The group of young ladies will remember this for years to come, and it will have a positive impact back here in Australia, assisting in the communities they currently work/volunteer within,” Carter said. “It is a very exciting time for our sport and for the individuals involved to travel and have an impact that is far wider than the volleyball court.”

The Volleyball Australia project, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is one of many being run around the world, using sport to address gender equity.

Meg Smith, from Women Win, said having all-female leadership groups from sports like Volleyball Australia involved in countries like Myanmar sends out a positive message. “Sports federations and development organisations are increasingly working in partnerships that can support both to achieve our goals,” Smith said. “Organisations like Women Win aim to address complex social challenges such as gender-based violence and lack of economic opportunities for girls and women. Through sport, adolescent girls can learn powerful lessons of resiliency, goal-setting and confidence. Female role models demonstrate to girls that they can overcome conservative cultural norms to take leadership roles and build better futures for themselves and their communities. Enhancing the quality of sport in our programs, with the support of sport federations like Volleyball Australia, enables us to better achieve these goals.”

It’s also of enormous benefit to the sport of volleyball, already the world’s most gender-equal sport and one of the few truly global sports, played in backyards, community centres, arenas and the Olympic Games.

“Sport Federations can reach groups that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to engage, growing their sports through grassroots participation in places where boys and girls desperately want, and need, opportunities to play,” Smith said. “Through these programs, young and passionate leaders emerge who deeply understand the transformative potential of sport. These young people are the ones who will build sustainable clubs and federations in the future, and promote the value of sport in the communities that most need it.”

Brooke Zobrist from Girl Determined is the on-ground facilitator for this project in Myanmar. “We are thrilled to host Volleyball Australia players and coaches in Myanmar in May,” she said. “We will bring together fifty girls and women from our weekly community-based girls sports programs to improve their volleyball knowledge and skills, ability to provide supportive coaching and strengthen their confidence and leadership skills. Parents, school teachers and other local leaders rarely encourage girls to participate in in sports. The general attitude is that girls should focus on more important things like helping their families or with their school work, and often parents discourage girls from playing because of the common belief that during puberty exerting in physical activity can injure a girls’ reproductive system, and, for some, there is the notion that is just not acceptable to jump, run and make noise because it is not “lady-like.” Having players and coaches from Volleyball Australia will spur excitement in the girls and young women in our programs, showing them that athletics IS something for girls and young women and that leadership in sports can translate to leadership in other parts of one’s life.”

For more information on Australia’s investment in sport and development, click here.

For more information about Girl Determined, click here.