As a former Olympian, I truly believe in the transformative power of sport and play. I founded Right To Play in 2000 in an effort to change the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged communities and situations in the world. Today one of the groups of children that are most excluded from regular activity are those that are affected by HIV and AIDS. They are often discriminated against, as there is a stigma associated with the disease. In 2008 Right to Play made a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to promote HIV prevention in child-friendly community spaces in nine sub-Saharan countries using sport to enhance awareness and encourage behavior change.
In early May, I had the opportunity to visit one of our partners, PASADA, which has a clinic for people living with HIV and AIDS in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Once a week they bring together children from the surrounding communities and implement activities from our Live Safe Play Safe (LSPS) education manual. LSPS has been designed to change the behavior of children through educational games that improve knowledge of HIV and AIDS and build life skills such as confidence, resisting peer pressure, and reducing stigma.
On the day of my visit there were close to 60 children playing various games in groups. One game that I was able to participate in was called “Don’t Trust Your Eyes.” In this game, the participants are divided into two groups, and one group begins passing a rock to one another behind their backs. When they are told to stop passing the rock the other group must guess which kid has the rock. The children quickly saw how difficult it was to guess just by looking—a lesson that resonated for children who face discrimination for HIV or AIDS. After the game, the children are asked about discrimination in their communities and peer groups and how they can avoid that way of thinking. Observing the children, I was reminded of the power of games to teach young people about interacting with each other and the rest of the world.
You can hear from one of our Junior Leaders about how games teach awareness about HIV and malaria here.
Right To Play has reached more than 266,000 children through LSPS, trained 1,800 volunteer coaches, and had 74 partners participating the implementation of activities in 9 African countries. LSPS is implemented in Benin, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Children report improved knowledge about HIV and AIDS and the building of life skills. Communities where we work have reported improved capacity to work toward the prevention of HIV and AIDS and to reduce stigmatization. Most of all, the children involved in our programs continually remind me of the power of sport and play to changing lives.
Johann Olav Koss is the president and CEO of Right To Play and a Clinton Global Initiative Member.