From recycled sports equipment to health education, Fair Game is making a huge difference in remote Australian communities with its healthy lifestyle message.
Born from the simple idea of repurposing pre-loved sports equipment, Fair Game is spreading the message of healthy living to remote communities with fun and collaboration paramount to their continuing success.
The sight of kids in a remote Pilbara community kicking around a rusty tin can in a makeshift game while treating a patient with obesity sent alarm bells off for doctor and Fair Game Founder and Chair John Van Bockxmeer. Staring out the window, he knew something wasn’t right when these kids obviously wanted an active lifestyle but were simply without the equipment and knowledge of how to do so.
According to Fair Game CEO Nicki Bardwell, John returned to Perth with an idea to recycle sports equipment and rallied three friends to help him.
“It started with John getting together a few friends, he did a few donation drives for the sporting equipment before packing up the car and basically driving from Perth to Kununurra, stopping at remote towns along the way and dropping equipment off,” Nicki recalls. “The recycle and donate program started that way and as he was doing that, he realised it probably wasn’t enough to just drop the equipment off because the kids don’t necessarily know how to use it, how the best way to stay active is or just general health and hygiene which needs to go alongside being active to stay healthy.”
While the pre-loved sporting equipment remains a crucial element to Fair Game today seven years on, it runs alongside another two equally important programs. Game On requires volunteers to visit the remote communities and teach the children how to use the recycled equipment with sport-based team games (“the games get the kids joining in all the time, so no one is ever sitting on the sidelines,” Nicki explains), general fitness, agility, stretching and even an indigenous yoga program ‘Wellness Walkabout’.
“Then we have the third program Healthy Communities, which is providing a health education to the kids through fun and interactive games integrated with the sport,” Nicki says. “It’s messages they’re getting in other ways, like school teaching them the importance of brushing teeth and washing hands. We then deliver it in a different way to reinforce the message because it’s the really simple health messages that will make a big difference to the spread of communicable diseases.”
The response from communities has been so positive that Fair Game has grown in its short life from John and three friends to more than 100 volunteers in Western Australia and continues to spread with further volunteers servicing more remote locations in the north and east of Australia.
“Our big overarching aim is to become a key driver for healthy community change across Australia which sounds really lofty, but ideally we want everyone in Australia to have equitable access to healthy lifestyle choices,” Nicki says. Fortunately for their high aspirations, Nicki and the Fair Gamers are all about collaboration and ‘the power of &’, so they’re not alone in their incredible crusade. They have reached out to other organisations working in remote communities to see how their work can complement each other.
“We do things really based on the needs of the communities and working out ways we can help them, so reaching out to people already in the same regions has allowed us to see what others are doing, what the problems are that they’re seeing and working out how we can work alongside them,” Nicki expains. “We now work alongside a lot of organizations, such as Foodbank because we’re mindful we don’t want to be doing the same thing as others and fighting for the same audience and cause, you may as well merge and be one. We know we’ll have a much greater impact if we all work together.”
And what an impact it’s having, with both health and social issues showing great signs of improvement and promise for future positive change.
“We recognised really early that we need to revisit the same communities over and over again so we become really known to the kids and the teachers give us feedback that they’re constantly asking ‘when are Fair Game coming back?’” Nicki says. “Seeing the kids engaged and achieving something is the best experience ever, seeing the good influence you’re having by showing the kids there’s someone who believes in them and saying ‘just because you live in an isolated community doesn’t mean you can’t achieve greatness, it doesn’t mean you can’t live healthily and we can give you the do that’.”
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