Mele Kafa - Tonga
My name is Mele Kafa. I started my football as a 7 year old girl with a program called Just Play funded by Australian Aid, UEFA Foundation, Football Federation Australia, OFC and UNICEF. The program was conducted away from my village and we walked to the village 3 days a week to take part in the program. It lasted for 7 years and we started to love football.
In 2016 I played in the Tonga Football National League playing for Navutoka Football Club. In 2017 was selected to represent Tonga National U17 women's team in Samoa for the Oceania Championship. In 2017 I represented Tonga Football Women’s National team in Vanuatu for the Pacific Mini Games where we won the bronze metal. The same year I represented the Women’s National team in New Caledonia for the Nations Cup. Last year I represented Tonga in the U20 Youth Olympic Games Futsal 5v5 and that was the greatest moment of my football career. Today I’m still playing football and its part of my daily life.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
Most of my photos were taken at the Tonga Football Academy field. The girls in the photos are those who have been playing football for the past 9 years. They are national players from different clubs and districts. It’s really football that can bring us together as one. It doesn’t matter your religion, school, or size, the best way to bring people together is to play the wonderful game of football.We are all wearing training shorts in front of our coach who is a Tongan. For our culture we need to respect our men by hiding our thighs. Now because of football we are free to wear the right training shorts during training.
Are there any good stories connected with the people you photographed?
We have been together for over 10 years playing football. We started with the Just Play Program in 2009. Just Play taught us a lot, giving us healthy messages about what to eat and food that won’t be good for our health. Respecting each other and accepting our differences is what keeps us going in football today.
What are the opportunities for female footballers in Tonga?
Playing football has really given us more opportunities, for us females here in Tonga to represent Tonga in national teams and playing against other Pacific Islanders. Through football some of our players have become referees, a great opportunity to participate in FIFA and Oceania competitions. Two of our national players are already employed by Tongan Football Association! We can travel out of Tonga and meet new football friends and learn about their lifestyle.
Why is football so important for Tonga and Tongan people?
I do believe football is very important to us here in Tonga, because everyone can play the game. Football plays a huge role in our daily life. With obesity as our number one killer disease here in Tonga, playing football at all age groups has reduced the disease. Football at the grassroots level kids a told about staying healthy and eating well. So football has changed the way people eat. Football is played in all primary schools with healthy messages to support our flight against OBESITY.
In the community football has allowed the youth to come together to play. Football has reduced the crime rate in society. More youth have spent more time on the ball playing football. It also brought more people to support the teams in the community. Football brings elders and youth to work together to achieve their team goal. Football brings togetherness in our society.
What does football mean to you?
Football is my life skill and my future. We want to be the #1 sport in Tonga and in Oceania. And in the future to qualify for the World Cup.