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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.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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The Youth of Claratown, Monrovia Liberia

charity, FAM, International, ROAM By March 4, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , 1 Comment

Claratown MonroviaAfter hours of games – in one spot 40 kids had been selected to participate and over 300 showed up – I was able to really see the theories behind Right To Play.  It is genius and the youth of Claratown, Monrovia, Liberia showed me the learning and laughter produced by Right To Play.  I keep thinking of the parallels it has to the theatre sports of my youth and university years, teaching  attention to detail, conversational abilities, control of the body and leadership.  After every game (not a soccer match, but a shorter activity such as ‘What time is it Mr. Wolf’ or ‘Find the person in the circle who is leading the activity’ or ‘find whose hand the stone is hidden in’ – there is a very deep discussion about the lessons learned.  Some games invite you to state your name proudly as you go around the circle.  I did that one in theatre school continually.  Others ask you to say the name of a country or boy’s name in a claratown schoolmetronome-like tempo – the trick being you can’t repeat one said already.  Bails of laughter resounded when I hesitated and shouted ‘Britney’ for a girl’s name.  They all thought I was perfect, as I was white.  But no.  You should have seen their faces when they had to mimic an action and I chose the Gangam Style jumps!

There are also other games that I played like Mosquito Tag that teach about issues pertaining to the local culture: sleep under a mosquito net, reduce garbage and don’t leave water standing.  In others, we talked about the meaning of discrimination, segregation and equality.  With the smaller kids we worked on left and right, body parts, physicality and focus as well as healthy eating (the fruit salad game!).

Claratown OuthouseIt was so special to have the opportunity to speak with locals.  They think we have no problems in North America.  I explained the homeless in Vancouver, the sexual assault, poverty and murders throughout our country.  They were shocked.  I talked about food banks and violence and they realized that perhaps we are not as shiny as we may seem.  I watched them cook and set up individual businesses buying bleach or grain in bulk and selling it in small packets for a profit.  This was not only a poverty-stricken society, but almost operated as if it were 1800 – the cell phone charging stations aside.

After two vigourous play sessions, I attended a two and a half- hour forum on drugs and youth. It was lengthy and – wow – the West African accents are hard to understand!  But I was floored.  These youth leaders – from teens to mid-thirties – arranged this event with guests.  Our Claratown vendorsCanadian group of 7 were special attendees.  But the mayor and governor of the region also attended.  And two representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency.  I hadn’t been in such a formal atmosphere since student government days at Queen’s.  The Queen’s students had nothing on these statesmen.  Points were discussed, debated, restated and analyzed.

IClara Town Youth Meeting came to a realization.  This conversation and articulation was the next logical phase of the Right to Play programs in which I was participating.  After being kids, people become youth leaders and then full-on volunteers who run groups all over Monrovia.  In Westpoint there were 9 circles of at least 40 kids.  The leaders were better than most counselors I have had in my life (don’t make me tell you how many).  And they were jobless.  They volunteer their time because they realize that if they don’t, their community will implode once these kids reach a certain age.

At the meeting, six-time Olympian Clara Hughes spoke for our group about her drug use as a teen.  A pin could have dropped.  These topics are not discussed in West Africa.  There are trucks that sell shoe polish to ensure appearances are tidy and yet there is no affordable way to go to the bathroom.  She then talked about determination and the blessings she received by having leaders, coaches and trainers.  And how, despite her difficult past, went to to win Olympic medals for Canada during both the summer and winter games.

History was made at this meeting.  I kept thinking of the French Revolution.  Seeing fourty people who have been through a recent war, and whose brothers and parents now suffer the effects of cocaine and marijuana, I could feel change bubbling within the room.  And these people all experienced Right To Play programs after being through a horrific war.  I would argue that my children cannot articulate in public the way the children involved in Right To Play programs had as we ‘played’.  And at the meeting?  I wish I could hire the whole lot of them to negotiate for me and run my company.

Claratown childrenAfter the discussions we were blessed with African drumming and dance of some local children outside the building.  There was a 3 year old who couldn’t control herself and followed along.  The hope extended from inside to out.

In case you missed the first travel article focused on West Point it is archived here.

Jill Amery

Jill Amery is a mom of 2 small boys and the Publisher of UrbanMommies, a stylish digital lifestyle magazine filled with fitness, style, health, recipes and savvy mom advice to help you through pregnancy, birth, and raising your kids.

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