We often have these AHA! moments in life.
I had one recently while at the Zareinu fashion show last week and I had one several weeks ago, just after I had signed up to participate as a parent ambassador in Right To Play’s Level The Field Program. We were on a conference call, learning a little about some of the games Right To Play “plays” in West Africa.
I use play in quotes because after hearing about it, I realize that it’s something so much bigger than a game. When it’s something that’s played with children, they are going to learn really important survival skills because they are learning through play.
The game is called mosquito tag, and it’s not unlike a typical game of freeze tag. But, there’s a wee wrinkle to it. Instead of being IT, you are a mosquito. And everyone else—instead of standing with their arms out—displays symptoms of malaria. So, in order to be able to play the game properly, the children must learn what the symptoms of malaria are. After the game, there’s time to reflect on the game. During this reflection, kids are able to see why certain things happened within the game itself— you see, if someone playing doctor didn’t come to “save” you, it may have been because you weren’t displaying the proper symptoms of malaria. So, in essence, while learning how to be better at the GAME, the children are learning how to be better at the game of life—which includes learning how to understand and tell someone when you have symptoms for diseases like malaria and for children in disadvantaged areas of the world, this means learning critical possible life-saving skills. They are learning about how to protect themselves and how to protect their families.
The AHA! Moment for me was that Right to Play is so much more. It’s not about want—it’s about necessity.
Canadian Olympic gold medalist Kyle Shewfelt, who has been an athlete ambassador with Right to Play since 2005—and is currently my fabulous Level The Field teammate—had a similar AHA moment.
After he had won his gold medal in gymnastics at the Athens Olympics in 2004, he attended a fundraiser in Calgary. It was there, after hearing several athletes speak, including Johann Olav Koss, President and CEO of Right To Play, that he just knew. He knew right then and there that he needed to be a part of this. “Sport isn’t just about winning medals,” he says. “It’s about learning how you can use your skills learned through sport to make a difference.”
He began his involvement in his hometown of Calgary, making a huge difference at home. When he began hosting the Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics Festival—an annual, one-of-a-kind festival showcasing the sport of gymnastics from the most beginner level to the most elite—he wanted to add an extra layer to the festival. “I wanted it to impact beyond just competition,” he says. And so it made sense that the festival itself became a fundraiser for Right To Play.
photo via Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics Festival
While Kyle is heavily involved in Right To Play in Canada, last year he had the chance to spend some time in the field in Liberia. “It was eye-opening. It actually changes you as a person. On the very first day there we visited Westpoint and we were in one of the very worst parts of Liberia, and it almost didn’t matter—there was so much laughter, joy, and play happening. Right To Play creates this purely positive space right in the middle of conditions that are not positive at all.”
Photo via Right To Play
We spoke about equality and Benin, our project in this amazing Level The Field program.
Girls in West Africa are often not allowed to play sports—they often are not even allowed to go to school. So, it was amazing for Kyle to be able to see a kickball tournament for an all-girls league. He was there—along with dozens of other watchers—to see the final game. “It was an awesome day! There were so many people out there being so supportive of these two teams. You could actually SEE the confidence in these girls growing.”
It’s amazing what this organization is doing, and what these unbelievable Athlete Ambassadors are doing to help. They are helping to change things for children and families. They are teaching them, along with Right To Play coaches and volunteers and guiding them, helping them survive and grow into leaders in their communities, all through something that seems so simple—PLAY.
“You can see what Right to Play is doing. Instead of just throwing money to people who are less fortunate, they are out there actively working and actively engaging. They are BREAKING THE CYCLE.”
All you need to do is vote and you can join the program for a chance to accompany Right To Play on a visit to West Africa!
I urge you to click over to the Right To Play Facebook page to learn more about my particular program—We Help Children Lead in Benin—and about the programs of the five other Canadian parents and Athlete Ambassadors. Once you are there, you will have the opportunity to (please, please) vote for the program that you feel most passionately about; the one that you would want the opportunity to visit and actually see in action (Yes! You! In Africa!). While I hope you’ll choose my program, I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from voting for any of the other programs too, since we are all working toward the same cause: to highlight the amazing work that Right To Play does all over the world; whether it be healthcare, gender equality, education, or conflict resolution.
I know that not everyone is super into the idea of actually traveling to Africa. But there are so many other ways to help! Click on over to the Level The Field Facebook page and sign up for the Right To Play newsletter—you can learn even more about the organization and how YOU can help or volunteer in your local community!