Ben Vile is no stranger to Papua New Guinea.
The former Brock-Burrum and Albury footballer, who spent part of last year living in East New Britain province, has learned plenty about our nearest neighbours just off the North Queensland coast.
Chiefly, that the two nations share an obsession – sport, of any kind.
Though PNG is renowned for prowess in rugby league, Mr Vile, whose time in the country last year was spent developing AFL, said interesting in the uniquely Australian sport was growing.
“You get asked about the two different codes a bit, but like Australians, they’re absolutely sports mad – they’ll play anything,” he said.
“You don’t get pushback from other codes, they’re more excited to come and play in an organised weekly competition.”
Mr Vile’s time overseas was spent working for AFL PNG, helping establish and expand junior and senior football competitions in the developing country.
Resources are scarce though, which is why he is asking individuals, clubs and schools to donate old and new footballs and team jumpers.
“Things like these donations of balls and jumpers, as well as things like coaching workshops are really well-received,” Mr Vile said.
“Last year the donations we got meant we were able to give sets of jerseys and a ball to each of the schools we visited, and we were able to establish a second junior competition.
“We were also able to restart the senior competition after a four-year absence.
“We had an Auskick style program for the kids, overall we had 9000 participants, which was roughly 1000 more than the previous year.”
The island nation, boasting a population of more than 8.2 million people, isn’t lacking sporting talent, Mr Vile said.
He said the biggest challenge was organising regular training and competition.
So could we soon see Papua New Guinean talent making waves in the AFL?
Mr Vile thinks it isn’t out of the question.
“We focused on introducing the game to more kids and more communities, as well as coaching and umpire education so they can keep learning themselves,” he said.
“It was good to see progress.
“Things over there often take time, it’s baby steps and you have to be patient, but the thing that shines through is that they really love the game.
“They’re interested and hungry to learn.
“Right across the country, there’s a big lack of organised junior sport.
“It’s a young population and the perception is that league is the only thing they care about, but soccer, union, volleyball, netball, and athletics are all big as well.
“It’s an interesting space, they’re unearthing all this talent across different sports – for them it’s all about exposing it.”
Mr Vile is once again departing for PNG on January 23, and is hoping to gather donation by the 19th.
If anybody would like to donate equipment for him to take to PNG, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.