Day 2 – Hope
I woke up today with my renewed perspective and I felt really ready for anything. Last night I had a few back and forths on twitter with my pal Adam Van Koeverden and he had some really great advice. He had been to Liberia in 2007 and completely related to the confusion I was experiencing. He reminded me that my role here is to observe, learn, experience and absorb as much as possible so that I can come home and be an even better advocate for Right To Play.
We started the day with a quick planning session at Right To Play headquarters and then we were off to an area called Nu Kru Town Community. We were there for the final match of a month long kick ball tournament that had been going on and coordinated through Right To Play.
When we arrived, there were children everywhere! We got out of our vehicle and a giant play session instantly began.
I noticed an albino child out of the corner of my eye and I was so intrigued. I had heard about this condition, but I had never observed it first hand. I’ve got to be honest, it was hard not to stare. As someone who’s skin is quite prone to burning, it was so intriguing to me that someone with this condition could survive in Africa. The sun here is HOT and the UV rays are very strong. What was even more intriguing to me was the fact that this child was able to be included in the group and play. This was instant proof positive that the Right To Play programs are working. You see, usually a child with albinism is shunned from their community. They are often killed at birth. If they do make it past the first few years, they usually end up contracting skin cancer quite early in their lives. I’ve heard stories of them being hunted because some communities believe that they have special powers. Considering all of these things that occur, it was pretty magnificent watching a child who was so glaringly different from the rest of the children having the opportunity to be included in the games. It was pretty heart warming. The other children were telling me that he could be my son - I kept trying to be funny and made jokes that he and I were vanilla flavoured and they were chocolate and we were all the same beyond that difference.
The kickball tournament was pretty awesome to see. First of all, I was amazed that the bases were made of chunks of grass. How resourceful is that?! The girls were very intense players and super athletic. They could run f.a.s.t! It was really inspiring to see the community come together and show their support and enthusiasm. Gender equality is a big problem in Liberia. Women are looked at as the weaker sex and they are often shunned from participating in physical activity because it has many stigmas behind it. A couple of beliefs are that women won’t be able to have children if they participate in sports and that they won’t be attractive to men because of the way their body will change. Nonsense I say! I was really proud that these girls felt safe enough in a Right To Play space to participate. It was another sign to me that barriers are being broken down because of RTP initiatives. Booyah!
After the conclusion of the tournament and lunch, we headed to another area of town to meet with the coordinators of the Hope Recreation and Resource Centre.
This centre was built in 2008 and it was already extremely run down. Things get quite worn here because Monrovia has one of the most severe rainy seasons anywhere in the world. Outside of the Hope Centre there was a playground and it was full of rusty equipment with missing pieces. Apparently it’s hard to keep a seat on the teeter totter because people steal them and sell them.
Mr.Cooper was the leader of the Hope Centre and he was a very special man. He seemed to have a genuine concern and care for the well being children His goal was to provide a positive space for the youth in his community to grow and prosper into the next generation of Liberian leaders. I asked him about why the centre was called “Hope”. He told me that hope is a very common word in Liberia for good reason. Most Liberians are sick of war, poverty and disease. They are all hopeful for what can be. Hope is one of the most powerful words in Liberia because for so long people had lost their ability to have it. Things were so bad that many started to believe there was no way out - that war and oppression would be their reality for eternity. But Hope has come back into their vocabularies because they have realized that HOPE is possible. HOPE lies within us all. But he was quick to remind me that it is better to act on HOPE than it is to just have HOPE. And that is why they are doing what they do. They are acting on hope and providing a space where hope can exist.
I can tell you that I felt hope in this place. They had a library full of used books. They had a couple of computers. They had a space for 100 children to sit together in seminars and learn about safe sex, disease prevention, abuse prevention and many other important topics. Education, knowledge and empowerment was very important to Mr.Cooper and his colleagues and that was extremely evident.
After seeing the Hope Centre and having a very inspiring visit, we made the drive back to our hotel. My mind was more at ease then it was at the end of the day yesterday. I was feeling a lot of…hope.
Today I realized that Right To Play is making a tremendous impact. The communities we visited today seemed to be on the right path. The children were respectful and inclusion was very apparent. My biggest learning from today though was that a community is only as strong and hopeful as its leaders. When they have belief in what’s possible then that belief trickles down. The Right To Play model recognizes this and spends a fair amount of time shaping it’s leaders and coaches into examples for the youth to emulate. I’ve always realized the impact and importance of role models, but today I felt it. The leaders are the essential part of this equation.