My kids are at the neighbour’s place. It’s a common thing here in my hood for the kids to run between houses finding each other, hanging out in each other’s living rooms or basements, eating and drinking from each other’s cupboards.
Moms buy juice boxes and popsicles by the dozens in anticipation. We never know who might ring the bell; we’re never quite sure who will be with them when the kids come home.
And I love it.
I love seeing all the faces change and grow over the years. I love that many of those faces look nothing like the tiny brown ones of my little boys.
We often joke that our neighbourhood is a mini-United Nations. We have France, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, Italy, Greece, India, Guyana and more represented in the houses that dot my block. We’ve shared treats for Diwali and yelled “Opa” at name day festivities. A French tart is as likely to be served at a neighbourhood get together as jerk chicken. We celebrate our differences. We recognize our similarities. It’s a great thing about living in this country: Where our parents are from has no bearing on who we are or how we interact.
We all wave the flag on Canada Day and toast each other as we do.
Others aren’t so lucky.
I remember watching the movie Hotel Rwanda and feeling physically sick to my stomach. I remember listening to Romeo Dallaire’s accounts of the genocide in that country happening not just to the people but among them. How whether you were a Tutsi or a Hutu could be a life or death situation. These were people of the same country of birth, of the same African heritage separated only by tribal differences and a pronouncement from someone, who had no solid basis for doing so, that one was better than the other.
The result was complete horror. Neighbour against neighbor. Child against child.
The genocide in 1994 took more than 800,000 lives, garnered world attention, became a Hollywood movie and then, if we’re honest, was largely left to history.
But history never truly goes away, does it?
Our kids have to meet up with the things we cast aside. Often in unfair ways; usually completely unprepared to handle it. The children of Rwanda are no different.
We here in North America can only wonder: What is it like to be a child in a place where who you are and what you can be is threatened to be completely limited by what your forefathers were or weren’t, what they did or didn’t do.
How do you make things different? How do you cross the line of tribal thinking and offer a hand to your neighbor when you have a history that teaches you that they are your sworn enemy? When their dad might’ve killed yours, where do you start?
Right To Play picked a place: Play.
Contrary to popular opinion the organization doesn’t just dump a bunch of soccer balls in a neighbourhood and walk away. What they do is teach kids important values like peace and gender equality and how to stay healthy through games those kids – and ours – can relate to. They use the best values of sport to show kids how to be better to each other.
And over the next few months I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be working with them to share that message. It’s my hope that here and through the Right To Play Facebook page, you’ll join me in helping to share the message of Peace through Play to your friends and family too.
I’ll introduce you to my Athlete partner in this mission, Olympian Clara Hughes (!!) who has already visited Rwanda and has seen the program change the lives of children and adults there and in other countries too.
And I’ll take you with me on a journey of understanding the commitment and techniques of the Right To Play volunteers whose commitment to the cause is exemplary.
You can play a role too.
Vote on the various initiatives outlined on the Facebook page , share the message with your friends and family. Every vote is a step towards raising awareness and gathering support for the program. If the Peace through Play program gets the most votes, this Spring I will head to Rwanda with one lucky voter (maybe YOU!) to report on the Level the Field program in action.
For now, I’m asking you to take a look at the video below explaining the Level the Field program and to offer your clicks and support for the Peace through Play program on the Facebook page.
Every child deserves time in this world as an innocent and when that right is taken away we owe it to them to step in and help.
I hope you’ll join us.