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level the field

The Field that was Leveled Through Hope

fitness, GEAR, International, ROAM By March 21, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 8 Comments

Hope Right To PlayIt has been several days since my return from Liberia and I feel as if I am missing a big part of myself.  The kids’ faces and gentle touches to my hands are constantly in my thoughts, and the friendships formed with the local Right To Play volunteers and staff are ones I will cherish forever.  Conversations with Olympians Clara Hughes and Rosie MacLennan motivated me to become a better human being, and experiencing so much poverty with fellow parent Lori Harasem made me play even harder to generate smiles from the kids.

Ben Right To PlayThe adults and teenagers we met had experienced terrible things in their lifetimes with a war that ended very recently.  Some had lost parents and raised themselves.  Most had a loved one who experienced sexual assault.  And every adult associated with Right To Play worked tirelessly to restore hope for the next generation.  Housing Bridge LiberiaEvery day the same volunteers (many had no employment themselves but chose to devote their days to teaching children through Right To Play activities) emerged into an empty space and performed magic.  It was like a slow motion film.  The waiting children would all turn, smile and organize themselves into a ‘great big circle’ so they could begin.  The rhythms of their responses to the leader of the game formed a percussive music.  The empty, litter-filled space had become vibrant and full of life.

Liberia Soccer GameLooking back on the experience, there is one thing that resonates: hope.  Despite dire circumstances in every community we visited, the smiles, cooperation and respect for one another was extraordinary.  I was brought back to the basics of life:  drink fresh water, keep your clothes and environment clean to prevent disease, help your neighbour.  Homemade ToyA young boy bathed meticulously in a large bucket by the side of the road.  A woman carrying a huge bundle on her head picked over potato leaves in a market to find the best choices for her family.  A twenty year-old on a motorbike saw the Right To Play sign on our van and gave me a huge thumbs-up.  It was all about hope.

Women in LiberiaThe new department of women and family in Liberia has made women’s rights a priority and there are billboards against the abuse of women and talking about seeking immediate medical help if you are assaulted.  Those were jarring to see.  But one sign on the side of the road resonated.  This one advertisement was a definition of ‘Mother’: a person who ‘makes something out of nothing’.  That is exactly what I witnessed.  These women generated a meager income buying bleach in bulk and selling it in small bags, buying a case of water packets and a block of ice and hoping for extreme heat so they may sell a few individual bags of water to quench thirst in their community.

Right to Play West Point OlympiansRight To Play has never taken a parent ambassador to a field visit and it was a profound experience.  I felt like an Olympian with the amount of interest directed toward me!  But I was clearly not nearly as disciplined or accomplished – I wasn’t great at playing the soccer games (I fell flat on my face in front of 300 kids and sprained my hand).  As a parent, I felt a powerful connection to the children and parents. Right To Play has everything covered for the children who are able to participate.  Baby Wearing AfricaBut the kids whose parents don’t prioritize play are missing out.  Many parents keep their children out of school to assist with washing or to take a long walk to wells for water.  I felt that not only could I connect with the kids as a parent, but talking to the parents was so important.  Their eyes would light up when I talked of my kids or asked for instruction on making a baby wrap out of a piece of towel.

Clara Hughes Playing with KidsAs a mother and publisher, I can make a promise.  I will never stop supporting the incredible work done by Right To Play. My kids are now playing the games and I intend to do everything  in my power to support the organization because it spreads hope.  And it is clear to me from meeting the people of Liberia that hope is all one needs.

To donate to Right To Play in Liberia, please click here.  No amount is too small.  Every donation will be matched 3 times.  Thank you.

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Liberia – The Trip of a Lifetime

charity, FAM By December 18, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 3 Comments

Right To Play ParentAnd then there was the week that I didn’t really sleep.  Olympian Kaylyn Kyle and I were behind in votes.  I called in a ton of favours and spread the message in creative (and largely annoying) ways.  Friends knew how important Liberia was to me and would ask daily about vote count.  As I had an emotional drop-off of one of my kids at school, a mom embraced me and encouraged me to share about my children and my life.  During our conversation I shared about “Level The Field” and her eyes lit up.  She had worked for the Swedish Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and is very familiar with the organization and the benefit of sports for kids.  Rocking her newborn in the stroller, she mentioned that she had a few friends in the sports field (that was a pun..) and would reach out to them to help our cause for Health in Liberia.

Fast forward.  Several days after the contest closed I was practicing square breathing and coaxing myself to carry on with life.  My friends and colleagues didn’t want to ask too much.  I was clearly distracted.  I got the email indicating I would go to Liberia while headed to the gym and became one of those people on her phone during an hour of cardio I hadn’t really noticed.  (I joked with Kaylyn that if we were to travel together she’d put my abs to shame).  Could it be true?  Could Liberia have won – when George Weah, one of Liberia’s most famous humanitarian athletes was a footballer as well?  Liberia needs so much support after recent years of civil war.  200,000 people have died and it ranks amongst the poorest nations on the planet.  Inequality.  Sexual crimes.  Disease.  The women, children and the handicapped youth need the teachings of inclusiveness that Right To Play can offer.

A few days later I was on a press trip to Ottawa and was about to tour the Canadian Parliament Buildings when I got another email announcing the voter who had won the chance to accompany the group on our expedition.  Her name is Lori Harasem and she lives in Alberta.  With three kids she finds time to work as the Recreation and Culture Development Manager for the City of Lethbridge and volunteers too.

Apparently Lori and I had a mutual friend.  Could it be?  I sent a covert text to my friend from my sons’ school to see if she knew Lori.  Apparently they were childhood friends and Lori was described as an extremely special, caring and loyal woman with a true believe and love of sport and play.  I tingled head to toe.  And then I toured the crucible of Canadian law and government feeling the importance of community, integrity and outreach.  The stately building made me realize even further that our position as Canadians allows us to help other nations – other children.  I am so honoured to be an ambassador for Right To Play.  To represent my country and to help children smile.  Somehow my kids’ Christmas lists don’t seem very pressing.

As I expressed to the other parent ambassadors when we were simultaneously told the news, I have been humbled just to be chosen to participate in the Level The Field program.  The prestigious group of parents who participated did a stellar job, and I still marvel at the work put in and the exposure that was given to the organization.  The true winners are the kids that we will be able to support through awareness and future donations.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all 6 West African nations could have oodles of funds flowing in?  I know that Right To Play is dear to all of our hearts now and hopefully in time we will all be able to help all of the 6 countries.  in the Level The Field program and the 20 countries Right To Play works in across the world.  If you would like to receive the Right To Play newsletter, you can subscribe on their website.

I told my schoolyard mom friend the news and the next day she cornered me as we waited for the bell.  Her son wants to start raising money to send soccer balls with me to Liberia.  He has a plan.  He’s 7.  And clearly very special.

Let the journey begin!

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Are Sport and Play a Luxury?

LIVE, play By November 14, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

What is a luxury?  Louis Vuitton, of course.  And silk pajamas.  A suite at the Four Seasons. Truffles are at the top of my list.  This is fun.  I like this game.  But what about less obvious facets of life like health and education?  Are sport and play a luxury?  Life skills?  Are the notions of co-operation, teamwork and fairness luxuries too?

When we think of what ‘should be’ important in less fortunate countries, Canadians think of the ‘biggies’.   We wince at photos of malnourished mothers trying to nurse, children with guns and sexual violence.  We project our values onto other societies.  When asked what should be the most important focus for these nations in a 2012 Ipsos Reid survey*, Canadians came up with these top four:

1.  Healthcare (36%)
2.  Conflict-free environment (24 %)
3.  Education (23%)
4.  Gender equality (7%).

(I’ll hold out comment on gender equality coming in at 7%.)

But what if there were a magical bean that could work towards resolving all of these big issues?

When our Canadian infants are young we are instructed to engage in ‘floor time’, playing blocks and puzzles with our little ones.  We trundle to the soccer fields in the rain and learn hopscotch.  How did you first learn about sharing?  A play-date where little Tommy wanted your Star Wars lego, right?  And what about gender equality?  I bet it was when Molly smucked you at checkers.  Canadian parents know innately the importance of play to our society and the development of our kids.  We are fortunate to not have to worry about war, water, disease and education. But only 5 per cent of parents see access to play as the most important factor for children in developing countries.

Play should be a luxury for no one.

In Canada we feel that sports help keep kids healthy and (more importantly!) out of trouble.  Children learn teamwork, gender equality and meet people from other places and backgrounds.  (Remember that hunky guy from the other city’s basketball team?)  Our kids set goals (which often mean that we get up at 4am to get to the hockey rink or pool), they learn how to concentrate, co-operate and properly channel aggression.

According to the survey results:

“When it comes to skills learned from sports that respondents used to help them with their education, responses included that skills acquired from sports taught them determination, leadership abilities, how to be a part of a team, how to balance play and school, drive, and discipline.” (excerpt from Right To Play Global Youth Summit survey results)

This is what Leveling The Field with Right To Play is about.  According to the Canadian Council on Learning, play nourishes every aspect of children’s development – it forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life.  Play paves the way for learning.

Shouldn’t kids in West Africa have the same opportunities that Canadian kids do?  If we can touch the areas of education, conflict, health and (lastly) gender equality through sport and play just think of the possibilities.

Not a tough magic bean to swallow.

You can support “Level the Field” by voting daily for one of six campaigns on the Right to Play Facebook fan page.  The winning parent and athlete ambassador team will travel to West Africa to help implement a program, and one of the Right to Play Canada voters will join them!  You can also help the organization and keep up to date with Right to Play when you subscribe to their newsletter.

*This survey is based on a sample of 1015 respondents commissioned by Right To Play and conducted by Ipsos Reid during September 17 – 24, 2012.  The results of the survey have a credibility interval of +/- 3.5 percentage points of all Canadians.


 

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Level The Field with Right To Play

charity, FAM By October 30, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , 1 Comment

Liberia Health SoccerIt’s been a rough week.  My son is having a hard time with self-esteem and handling stress.  He is lashing out and struggling and as his mother, I feel my heart breaking piece by piece.

But today is soccer day.  He was up, dressed and ready to get inspired by his coach and teammates.  He runs.  He plays.  He tells the kid who missed the pass that it’s ok.  Living in such a privileged community does not fix the growing pains that kids go through, but having abundant resources to help makes everything easier.  I have seen first-hand how sport and guidance help children thrive.

Liberia HealthI am honoured to be part of a new program with Right To Play called Level The Field.  The organization operates to create a healthier and safer world through the power of sport and play to help create a level field and equal opportunities for children everywhere.  Teamwork, cooperation and respect are explored in fun ways and community leaders act as coaches to change behaviours.  Right To Play’s innovative methodology is grounded in a deep understanding of social learning theory and child development needs.  Through sport and activities adapted from local traditional games, mental, physical and psycho-social well-being of the children improve.  (And I have a hunch that the parents feel pretty good as they watch their children play and laugh.)

Typically my writing is laced with wit and fluff.  But as I write today, tears are close.  I read about the children in Liberia and I think about my son’s behavior.  What do mothers feel when their children get sick because they haven’t learned that washing hands can prevent disease?  If my heart is breaking from watching my son suffer, what would it be like for parents living in disadvantaged areas of the world?  We all grow up with our own context and it is difficult to compare hardships, but I can’t help wanting to do everything in my power to help those moms smile as they watch their children thrive and grow.
Right To Play has given me the gift and opportunity to be able to help them raise awareness about the work they do every day, all over the world..  I have been partnered with Kaylyn Kyle, Vancouver Whitecaps soccer goddess and Olympic medalist.  Together, we promote how we can help level the field for children through play with a focus on how play can positively impact the health of those in Liberia.

Liberia Children Right To PlayLiberia is one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the highest incidences of malnutrition, infectious disease and other global health concerns. 85% of people live below the world poverty line*.   A massive civil war between 1989-2003 not only modeled violent combat for the children, but it created a lack of trust in people from other communities.  After Right To Play started working with local communities in Liberia in 2008, there are more organized sports and activities and people from various communities play together.  Children are less likely to reach for weapons and fists to settle conflicts.  And 183 local leaders and supervisors have been trained as positive role models.  People with disabilities are now included in play, and girls and boys are now playing together more often, in a country with a high incidence of sexual violence and a history of gender inequality.

Level The Field video

I’m embarrassed.  Not only did I not know about the work done by Right To Play, but I didn’t have a handle on how bad things are in disadvantaged countries around the world. Did you know that 26,000 children under the age of 5 die every day?  Infectious diseases such as HIV, measles and diarrheal disease are largely preventable.  I can’t stop shaking at the thought of the mothers watching their toddlers die.  We need to help.  Please encourage Right To Play’s activities and help us promote children’s health in Liberia by visiting the Level The Field page on Facebook. By voting for our program, or the program you feel most passionately about on Facebook, you can help us raise awareness about Right To Play’s work and also enter for a chance to accompany the team with the most votes on a visit to see a Right To Play program in-action.  We need to lessen the number of broken hearts in this world.

Level The Field with Right To Play*Source: Charitywater.org

 

 

 

 

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