Promoting the Right To Play

With the Olympic Games recently having come to a close, and as a Canadian who embraces the spirit of the Games, I thought it would be a fitting time to shine light on legacies that can be made and endured after the flame goes out. While those 17 days are the spotlight of an amateur athlete’s career, the attention they garner can also serve as a platform for drawing attention to important topics and global issues.

One of the most notable examples of this comes from former Speed Skater Johnann Olav Koss who was a 4-time Gold Medalist for Norway. After retirement, in 2000 he decided to form an organization called Right To Play. With an obvious passion for sport and an understanding of the values it promotes, Koss also recognized the importance of play in developing countries as a form of education, health, and just basic fun. For many kids who don’t have the time, the money, or live in a community without the resources for clubs or programs, there is a deprivation of the ability to simply play. Right To Play became committed to working with the most disadvantaged children, whether they are children with disabilities, street kids or former soldiers, to provide the many benefits of play.

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Aside from the social aspects of sport, such as team work and fair play, Right to Play uses games as a tool for education, healthy living and promotion of peace, and enlists local staff and volunteers to run the program and construct the venues. Now in it’s 14th year, the program reaches over a million kids on a weekly basis

“We have games of tag to explain vaccination, malaria treatment and prevention. One part of a game is, “How do you protect yourself from mosquitoes?” The answer is using mosquito netting at night. So in the game of tag, the children put their hands over their heads to be the mosquito netting. So you see the children who are “mosquitoes” running around, they can’t tag anybody. You repeat this over and over again and they go home to the parents and say, “Where’s my net? I don’t want to be infected because I want to play tomorrow.” – Johann Olav Koss

The program has enlisted the help of over 120 Olympians, from countries around the world that visit the communities that Right to Play is operating in, to serve as ambassadors. Having lived the values that sport represents at the highest level, the Olympians are there to share their passion, pass on the importance of play and how it has impacted their lives, and be a source of inspiration for children to demonstrate that hard work and perseverance are needed to achieve goals of any size.

Ultimately, Koss’s mission is to change the perception that play is a luxury for children in developing countries who face arguably more pressing issues, such as access to food and shelter. He believes that play is a fundamental part of any child’s life, specifically in the first 5 years, and not only do the skills set them up for a healthy and successful future but play allows for a creative form of learning in areas where not all children have access to formal education.

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Right to play is a great example of a social entrepreneur sharing their own passions and experiences to make a difference in the lives of others. And in this case, while ensuring food, safety and shelter for children is imperative, Koss reminds us that in doing so we shouldn’t neglect the importance of allowing them to simply feel like a child and that The Right to Play should truly be seen has a fundamental right.

http://www.righttoplay.com

Photos copyright Right To Play

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