Rugby Stars take anti violence message to Samoa

FOLLOW MY LEAD: John Schwalger and children at Lalomanu school, Samoa, during the November trip on which he and other rugby players spread a message against domestic violence

As a young boy growing up in Samoa, John Schwalger thought it was “normal” to be slapped by his parents.

But the Hurricanes star is hoping to break the cycle by taking an anti-domestic violence message back to his homeland.

Ten members of the Wellington Lions and Hurricanes squads were honoured by Police Commissioner Howard Broad yesterday for their campaigning under a joint police and New Zealand Aid programme aimed at preventing violence.

In November, the rugby stars were in Samoa using their public profiles to tell children and adult men that violence in the home must stop.

Hurricanes prop Schwalger, now 26, was four when he came to New Zealand from Samoa, and said he knew what it was like to be hit by an older relative.

“Over there, you get a slap and don’t think anything of it. But over here it’s different. When I grew up, it was just normal, like everybody else.

“We’re trying to change things. It’ll be a slow process, but hopefully the message will get through. Everyone gets frustrated but you’ve got to be strong enough to count to 10 or leave the house before you do something you might regret.”

Hurricanes loose forward Victor Vito, 22, said he was pleasantly surprised at the impact the rugby players had. At one village council they attended, the women all banded together against violence.

The players were trying to teach men especially to control their frustration and be strong enough to leave the house before lashing out.

Playing rugby with the children was the key to reaching the adults. The players also handed out anti-domestic violence wristbands, rugby balls and signed photos carrying the campaign slogan: “Break the Silence, End the Violence”.

They starred in three TV ads – which will screen during televised Super 14 matches – and had been asked to make another. Mr Broad said the rugby players sent “a powerful message to the men and boys in the Pacific we’ve been trying to reach”.

Police liaison inspector Karen Smith said there was no greater incidence of domestic violence in the Pacific than elsewhere but cultural factors – such as the influence of a male-dominated society – made it more acceptable.

Since police began working with their Samoan counterparts to tackle domestic violence in 2006, more attacks were being reported – more than 800 last year compared with 140 in 2007.

But reducing the violence would take decades, she said.

Taken from Dominion Post 9/2/10

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