Tahina Booth

Founder & Athlete

Tahina is an Australian citizen of Melanesian descent who lived her early childhood in Papua New Guinea before migrating to Australia with her family. With hard work and discipline, she has represented Australia in Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting, qualifying to represent Australia in Olympic Weightlifting for the 2018 Commonwealth Games team. Tahina has been a player for the Papua New Guinea National Women’s Rugby League team, The PNG Orchids since 2018. She also previously played for the Cronulla Sharks in the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership and is currently a contracted player in the North Queensland Cowboys Women’s team, competing in the Queensland BHP women’s Rugby League competition for the 2021 season.

Competition sport gave Tahina a sense of purpose and was an outlet to prove to herself her resilience, and undeniable grit. Fighting through mental struggles that come with injuries, failure and having to overcome the stereotypes that women in sport face, she asked herself life’s biggest questions; What her purpose was and how she could be a service to the world. It was at that moment, the seeds of the Grass Skirt Project was planted.

Tahina is also the CEO & Founder of Grass Skirt Project, an Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) registered charity that has impacted over 7,500 people to date in communities around PNG. Grass Skirt Project uses sport to foster community building and better access to health services such as sexual & reproductive health check-ups, optical care, and gender-based violence support.

Tahina is an advisory Board member of the International Rugby League Federation Women and Girls, and works with youth who have been affected by violence and need personal development support.

Dr Sofia Bartlett

Scientist, Surfer & Development Coordinator

Sofia is a public health researcher with a background in data science, molecular virology and infectious disease epidemiology. She is a founding Director of Grass Skirt Project, providing leadership and helping to conceive and develop innovative community driven, sport-based projects for people in Papua New Guinea, focusing on improved health and social outcomes.

Being a keen surfer, and having witnessed domestic violence during her childhood, using sport to help address social and development issues has strong appeal for Sofia.

​Her background in public health and epidemiology allows her to identify pressing health and social issues, and identify suitable solutions which can be tailored to each communities specific context. Sofia ensures monitoring and evaluation is embedded in Grass Skirt Project’s activities, and is passionate about increasing capacity of communities and grass roots organisations to be able to undertake their own data collection and analysis activities. She is currently based in Vancouver, Canada as she is a Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) & Michael Smith Foundation for Health & Medical Research funded Postdoctoral Fellow at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control & University of British Columbia. Sofia has an adjunct appointment at the Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales in Sydney, and splits her time between Canada, Australia and PNG.

Kila Mala

PNG Education & Operations

Kila runs education operations for Grass Skirt Project in Port Moresby and Papua New Guinea.

For 8 years Kila represented Papua New Guinea internationally in Outrigger Canoeing. After retiring as a competitive athlete, Kila recognised the need for more programs, training and amenity for sports within communities and settlements, including his own village of Hanuabada, NCD.

Kila’s love of sport has driven him to work in various capacities in, and around, elite sport including coaching, administrative and management roles for team PNG at the 2013 Pacific Mini Games and the 2015, 2019 Pacific Games.

Kila was the first Master OSEP educator in PNG and the first to be certified as a member coach of the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association. In 2019, Kila is also undertaking Level 2 ASCA training. He will be the only person in PNG to hold this qualification. This accomplishment will enable him to train and develop other coaches to international standard.

With Grass Skirt Project, Kila is developing a prototype for a community-based education and training facility in Hanuabada. This will enable him, and other educators to provide access to life-changing health and wellness messaging, training, coaching, and sporting equipment.

Meiling Choong

Community Relations & Sport Development

Meiling Choong, an expert in community sports in Papua New Guinea. Born to mixed parentage from Papua New Guinea and Malaysia, Meiling has been a trailblazer in changing mindsets towards women in leadership roles. Despite facing sexism, she achieved great success in sports, representing both Malaysia and Papua New Guinea in Rugby Union. With her relentless drive to excel, Meiling became the first woman to lead as the Strength & Conditioning coach for the men’s Barramundi National Cricket team, gaining four years of invaluable experience.

Today, Meiling is the head of the education division of Grass Skirt Project, an organization that empowers women, men, and communities through leadership and sustainable development in Papua New Guinea. Her focus on providing education to girls and women and implementing community-based gender equity programs has made a significant impact on the lives of women and communities in the region. Under Meiling’s leadership, the Grass Skirt Project works towards promoting gender equality, increasing access to healthcare, and providing economic opportunities for women, making a tangible difference in the lives of people in Papua New Guinea. With her expertise in community sports in the region, Meiling is a valuable asset to any team seeking to create meaningful change in Papua New Guinea.

David Westley

Capacity Building & Mentoring

David’s journey from Bai Village, Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) to playing 10 years of professional Rugby League in the NRL was a dream come true, filled with privilege and honour. However, after a career-ending injury, he discovered his passion for coaching, teaching, mentoring, and community development.

Workingin Rugby League Development at North Queensland Tafe Academy of Sport, David focuses on character building, mentoring, and promoting youth leadership through sport. He has made a significant impact on the lives of young people he works with by enabling economic opportunities through employment. David believes in using sports as a tool to help young people develop essential life skills and become leaders in their communities.

David’s dedication to youth leadership and capacity building through sports is inspiring young people in Papua New Guinea and beyond. He serves as a role model for aspiring coaches and youth advocates, demonstrating the transformative power of sports in building character, promoting leadership, and creating positive change in communities.

“Sport conveys positive messages ​and influences behaviour, promoting self-esteem and interpersonal skills among people, especially young people. It can fight discrimination and raise awareness about issues, as well as enabling communities to build bridges.”
- Benny Geteng (Keith Jackson and Friends: PNG's Sporting Revolution)

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