An aid worker from Hartlepool helped to ‘tear down social barriers’ by organising what is thought to be Afghanistan’s first female rugby session.
Malinee Wanduragala, 32, who was stationed in the British Embassy in Kabul for 18 months with the Government’s Department for International Development, focused a lot of her work there around women’s rights.
And one of her biggest achievements came in a sport close to her heart.
Malinee, a keen sportswoman who is a former player of London club Wasps, teamed up with local sports enthusiasts to arrange a training session.
It took place on the British embassy’s artificial grass tennis court, with about 25 females taking part.
Malinee, 32, said: “Sports such as rugby can transform lives and communities – not just because of the important health benefits, but because they bring people together learn how to work as a team, teach respect and discipline and most importantly are a chance to have fun together.
I’d love to see rugby grow in Aghanistan and particularly see women and girls playing itMalinee Wanduragala
“I’ve loved sport since a young age and was really lucky to be part of a very successful Hartlepool Oaksway netball club team, coached by one of the best netball coaches in the country.
“Many of the best southern hemisphere rugby teams credit netball with developing great handling skills and the experience I gained in the decade competing nationally with Oaksway certainly helped me when I started playing rugby for Wasps in 2006.
“I’d love to see rugby grow in Afghanistan and particularly see women and girls playing it.”
Malinee’s idea to set up women’s rugby in the country came after meeting Asad Ziar, who founded the Afghan Rugby Federation in 2011 on the men’s side.
With the help of the Afghan women’s cricket coach, she collected a group of women aged between 16 and 25 to a session as they learned the basics of rugby.
The former Eldon Grove Primary School, High Tunstall Comprehensive School and English Martyrs Sixth Form College student has been hailed for her efforts.
International development secretary Justine Greening said: “It’s great to see that Malinee is sharing her passion for rugby to help tear down social barriers for Afghan women and girls and at the same time giving them a totally new experience of playing sport and rugby.
“This work is a great example of how staff from the Department for International Development often going above and beyond their roles. If Afghanistan is to have a stable future, it’s vital that women can play their role in Afghan society and that includes sport.”