One billion children across the world live in conflict-affected areas. During conflict or upheaval, children find little space or time to play, and yet play is a powerful tool for
building peaceful communities and helping children develop the essential life skills needed for brighter futures.
For peace to thrive, change must begin with the children. Learning at a young age to settle disagreements with tolerance and words, and to accept one another in spite of differences, is where the peacebuilding process begins.
When communication breaks down, play provides a universal language. It puts children at ease, allowing them to have fun, interact with their peers and test their limits in a safe environment. Through play, we design our programmes to promote peace, encourage inclusion and prevent violence.
We work in formal settings like schools, but also in informal ones such as refugee camps and health centres so that we can reach the most vulnerable children and young people.
As a result of attending our programmes, 85% of children would not engage in conflict with their peers.
Twenty years ago, Gladys had just been settled in the Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya. At just 14, she struggled to define her identity, feel a sense of security and build confidence to interact with the other children. She felt lonely and isolated. Almost 90% of the camp's population was Somalian; Gladys belonged to the five per cent from Sudan.
Right To Play began working in the refugee camp in 2012. By this time, Gladys was 32, and the camp was the only home she really remembered. She loved playing with children, understood the camp's cultural dynamics and wanted to become a Right To Play Coach. "Starting activities was not easy at first," says Gladys. "The challenge was playing with girls who are restricted by their culture from open participation and mingling with boys."
Ultimately, she wanted to help the children get along. Using our peacebuilding techniques, she and the other female Coaches teamed up, teaching the children how to respect different cultures and religions through play. Their games quickly attracted children from every community within the camp. "By the end of the first month, the intercommunity hostility lessened," says Gladys. "Curious parents from other communities brought their children to the play field and stayed to watch how the children participated." Now, as a Coach Supervisor, Gladys is organising an Intercommunity Sports Day for Women. She believes her work brings unity and peace and creates acceptance and understanding between the children.