A SPECIAL rugby scholarship program has brought 10 young men from Fiji to Box Hill's Sparks Reserve and the blossoming partnership has been a successful one for the young Fijians and the ladder-leading Box Hill Broncos.
Rugby Plus is an initiative of Island Breeze Australia — a ministry of Youth with a Mission, a not for profit Christian values-based organisation.
The program was born in 2006 with the aim of keeping young men in the Pacific islands and indigenous Australians off the streets while helping them become role models for their families and communities.
Program director Jade Baravilala said the program's aims were summed up in the philosophy "your life off the field has to be as good as it is on the field".
That is, the lessons learned on the sporting field must help develop character in young adults and, in turn, help the home communities.
"We've been going over there (Fiji) for a few years and running clinics," Baravilala said.
"(The players selected) have to have the skills and drive to go further with their rugby, but also have the desire to improve their character."
On the field, the Fijians' contribution has been staggering with Box Hill heading the Dewar Shield ladder — it's best season in more than a decade.
The Fijians' pace and skills are leaving opposition teams in their wake.
"They grow up with a ball in their hands," Baravilala said.
"When they are born, they have a ball rather than a dummy. The top four try scorers are from Box Hill and they are our guys. Three of them have been chosen for the Melbourne Rising (Melbourne Rebels development team)."
But, most importantly, the program does not end at the final whistle on match day.
Baravilala said the three main areas of concern for young men growing up in Fiji were drugs, domestic violence and low self-esteem.
Most of the guys, she said, had been touched by one or more of these problem areas.
The scholarship to Australia has given the young men a range of experiences that will help them build their own sense of self-worth.
While in Australia, as well as playing rugby, the men receive education in areas such as farming techniques, banking and finance.
Island Breeze hopes that these skills will be taken back to the players' home villages.
"It's great to watch villages transformed," Baravilala said.
The costs and logistics involved in bringing so many players over to Melbourne for a lengthy scholarship stay are a constant challenge.
But, such is the success of the program, it has many supporters.
"The Box Hill club is very supportive of the boys," Baravilala said. "They've been like family.
"We've had a huge amount of support from the Fijian community. We've definitely made headway with the funding, but we've still got a long way to go."
As such, Island Breeze will be holding a big fundraising luau at Box Hill Rugby Club on Friday, July 11 with plenty of Fijian food and entertainment.