Browsing Tag


Teaching Equality

charity, FAM, health By March 8, 2013 Tags: , , , , No Comments

Olympians and KidsThe smells of burnt fish and feces are becoming normal.  The soles of my feet, after three days, can no longer get clean.  There is no pavement – just sand where the kids play their games.  It makes it easy for the Right to Play leaders to draw lines to facilitate the games and learning.

Different schools and areas are on a sliding scale of poverty.  The little girl who defecated on the wall of her corrugated metal shack this morning.  The woman wearing only her bra and a sarong around her waist who wanted my phone number in Canada – versus the school that had a well and children without sores on their faces or distended bellies.

LIberia JumpWe played with kids at Islamic schools, Christian schools and who knows what kind of schools.  It didn’t matter at all.  The kids reacted the same.  And the group leaders need to seriously come to my house in order to get my kids in line.  All they have to do is say ‘Circle’ (pronounced ‘’psy-cow’ in West African dialect) and the kids magically form a circle, joining hands.  A huge part of the process is response.  The leader says ‘circle’ and kids say ‘circle’  the leader says ‘circle wider’ and everyone jumps backwards as they chant ‘wider’.  The rhythm and music that is part of many of the games was compelling.

After three days it is hard to be stoic.  A little girl today followed me everywhere and the attention I paid her may be more than she has gotten in weeks.  Yesterday children of Clara Town flocked around us and followed like geese.  They all want to be in photos, and seeing the shot afterwards on the digital display thrills them to no end.  They make crazy poses – perhaps thinking they are rock stars and models (one man of about 21 begged me for his photo and posed like Beckham).  Sometimes the camera equipment scares them.  I made two little ones cry today and could have died.  It was like I had zapped them with a tazer.  They have much to cry about and my Nikon was the thing that did it.  I have never felt so horrible.  You absolutely liberia water wellmust ask prior to photographing adults.  Many in more impoverished areas feel like the rich North Americans with their expensive equipment are coming to take pictures for profit out of their hardship.  We got a few scowls, but mostly warmth.  The women are so beautiful.  I could photograph them endlessly.

I had the opportunity to work with many older kids – 10 to 14 and the games were more advanced.  In one, 4 areas were designated as ‘agree’ ‘disagree’ ‘I don’t know’ and ‘maybe’.  The leader would pose a question and we would run to the quadrant that best fit our thoughts.  We then had to justify why we ran there.  In one instance, the statement was ‘Only girls should play with dolls’.  Half of us (including me and the Olympians) ran to ‘Disagree’ and half of the girls ran to ‘Agree’.  A heated debate ensued.  In Liberian culture only women care for children, therefore only girls should play with dolls.  The girls in our quarter countered that if a man has a baby he needs to know liberia playdayhow to hold it.  The facilitator stood between and reminded us often that we could move if we changed our minds.  Clara Hughes piped up and said that at one time some people thought that only men could to do sports but now both sexes excel.  My non-confrontational self was uncomfortable.  And shocked at the cultural disparity.  But amazed that some of the girls were really thinking for themselves – on all sides of the argument.  They were certainly less nervous orators than me.  I kind of wished we could do a touchy/feely hugging game afterwards though.  Right To Play has lots of those, and gets people comfortable with their bodies and appropriate physical contact.

Looking out my desk window in the hotel room at the moment.  It’s teeming with rain and I listen to Handel (Watermusik.. chuckle.) as I write.  My view looks like ivy or trellis.  But it’s electrical cords and barbed wire.  Surreal.


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.