Today is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is: Be Bold for Change. Aussie Sevens star and Olympic gold medallist Nicole Beck has made this a reality, by taking part in ChildFund Pass It Back’s coaching and referee clinics in Vietnam, giving girls and young women the chance to learn new skills and inspire positive change in their own communities.

Earlier this year, Nicole Beck headed to Vietnam for the first time as part of a unique initiative between ChildFund Australia and the Australian Rugby Union. With funding support from Australian Aid, both organisations are working together to grow the successful ChildFund Pass It Back program and give children from the poorest regions in Asia the chance to take part in organised sport.

ChildFund Pass It Back is an innovative Sport for Development program led by ChildFund in partnership with World Rugby, Asia Rugby and Women Win. Using a fully integrated rugby and life skills curriculum, it not only promotes the right to play in communities where children have little or no access to sports and recreation activities, but gives participants important learning opportunities around leadership, gender equity, conflict-resolution and planning for the future. In particular, the program prioritises equal inclusion of girls and young women.

Speaking at the ChildFund Pass It Back Cup held in Kim Boi District, Nicole said: “It is a privilege to be able to travel to these communities and support the development of new talent. I am particularly impressed that in Laos and Vietnam, where rugby is a relatively new sport, so many girls and young women are jumping in and giving it a go.”

Fifteen-year-old Than from Vietnam is one of those girls. Having lost both her parents at a young age, she was shy and lacking in confidence. Her older cousin Phuong, a ChildFund Pass It Back Coach, took active steps to get her involved with the program. “At first, she was reluctant and refused but I encouraged her every week. Over time, she started to realise that she could participate in activities equally to other people – regardless of her family circumstances,” Phuong explained.

Today, Than not only feels more confident, knowledgeable and positive about the future, but she is also now a cup winner! “Sharing the moment of winning the ChildFunds Pass It Back Cup with my teammates was truly unforgettable. Now, I know that I can have success in my life. All I need to do is try my best.”

To date, more than 3,500 children and youth in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Laos, Vietnam and The Philippines have benefited from participation in the program, with girls making up more than 50 per cent of the players and coaches. Because rugby is an unfamiliar sport in many Asian countries, there are no fixed ideas about which gender should be playing it. This encourages girls to take part, as it is not traditionally seen as a boys’ game.

“The ChildFunds Pass It Back program was initially set up for children living in rural and remote villages of Laos, and is now expanding in Southeast Asia for children and young people who face significant challenges of poverty and inequality,” said ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence.

“As the program develops, it is wonderful to have the support of Australian Rugby, World Rugby and Women Win to build the knowledge and skills of our young players and coaches. Women like Nicole Beck are fantastic role models to young girls – with the ability to inspire them to be strong leaders within their own communities.”

Watch Nicole, Than and Phuong in action at the ChildFund Pass It Back Cup in Vietnam:

ChildFund Pass It Back is led by ChildFund in partnership with World Rugby, Asia Rugby and Women Win. The program aims to equip children and young people in Asia to overcome challenges, inspire positive social change and ‘pass it back’ to their communities.