Play for Peace. What exactly does this mean? I came to Rwanda with Right to Play to find out the answer. I leave Rwanda today with much more than a simple response to this question. I leave this beautiful country, this land of a thousand hills and thousands of smiles, with experiences that have shown me time and again just how play equals peace.
I’ve known this potential for some time. Because I was an Olympian six-times over, I read this very thing in the literature provided by the International Olympic Committee. The ideas of countries laying down their arms and battling it out on the level playing fields of sport was one of the idealistic slogans I found quite inspiring. At least early on.
Then, as the years went by and I saw the reality of sport at the highest of levels, cynicism crept in. The corruption rampant in our world that is not limited to sport but in every facet of our existence had began to penetrate my idealistic views of everything I stood for as an athlete.
And then I found Right to Play. I found these programs that foster learning, growing and developing through sport and play. I witnessed from first on TV and then in the field on many trips to Africa that this indeed is possible. This connection brought me back to the very essence of beautiful sport and its potential. Potential to empower and shift the lives of children and youth.
I am an example of this potential in my own life. An example of how sport can transform. How dreams and goals and caring for something in life can lead to beautiful moments that inspire and touch others. That allow for more dreams and goals to form in hearts and minds by your actions.
But here in Rwanda, this time around, I was searching for the proof that Play for Peace is not only possible but in practice and thriving here. Working to water the seeds of hope in the young minds and hearts here in Rwanda where less than twenty years ago devastating genocide took place and crushed the lives of many. I am not here to judge or form any kind of opinion on this history because it is not my experience to absorb.
I have seen sadness and I have seen struggle but quite frankly, what has stood out to me is what I have seen over and over again. That is, the essence of hope. The vitality of the children who are affected in the most positive and powerful ways when they are provided the chance to stand up for themselves, their rights, and are able to come together and break down the barriers of division that has caused so much destruction in our world as a whole. They do this because play allows for this forum of release and oneness.
Play for Peace is my theme for the Level the Field initiative that I am a part of with Right to Play Canada. I found my answer from Joel, one of the Right to Play country staff in Kigali. Joel is the program director and is a quiet man. He is a thinker and a listener. He stood and spoke to all of us international visitors visiting his domain as to why Right to Play. Why these programs are having the effect they are in a place with the recent history like Rwanda. He shared the power of play with us in clear form. I was so blown away I had to write furiously to make sure I got it right to pass it on in this simple blog.
In his words:
“I joined Right to Play Rwanda last year. I have worked for various NGO’s in Rwanda. I testify that RTP is the only NGO this is really contributing to our children. We went through the difficulty of genocide. We decided to go ahead. To not look at the past but to go ahead and look to the future. The social fabric of society that has been destroyed. We are able to put together kids from families that are together in prison. Play is able to put together children of families that were at war. The government has the initiative for women to weave baskets and weave together for peace. We at Right to Play gather the kids around the red ball and bring peace where there could be division. This is the power of play. The power of sport. This is what gives our next generation hope.”
Which basically says it all. The power of play for peace is people laying down their differences and ideas and letting loose on the playing fields. I have seen this time and again in the field and cannot emphasize enough what it means to me to see the very essence of Modern Olympic ideals come to life.
It’s these ideals that kept me going as an athlete for so many years. It’s Right to Play that continues to allow me to believe in them. That they are revived day in and out in the various fields with some 800,00+ children around the world makes me feel that there is hope indeed. I get to be a part of watering this hope because I am engaged as a Right to Play Athlete Ambassador. Which makes me an athlete for life. An athlete and a champion in the truest sense.
To learn more about Play for Peace and Level the Field, go to Level the Field and vote for me. Register to win a trip to Rwanda with me and you will see for yourself this magic come to life. But I have to win in votes for you to have a chance so pass this onto everyone you know and get them to vote as well.