The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace - a global initiative celebrated annually on 6th April - evolved from a belief that play has the power to transform the world and is an effective tool in humanitarian, development and peace building efforts. Alongside the United Nations and other global bodies, Right To Play worked for play to be recognized as a development goal in its own right. Our unique approach uses the power of sport and play to deliver against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals focused on Health, Education, Peace and Gender.

As a leader in the Sport for Development and Peace movement we know that sport and play has the ability to transform children's lives. Playing creates a safe arena for children to engage and interact. Something as simple as a game of football creates common ground and a sense of equality, levelling the playing field by breaking down complex social barriers, promoting teamwork and creating acceptance around differences such as gender, race and religion. Sport and play helps children put their differences aside. Most importantly, it provides the platform for their long-term personal development.

When the children in our programmes learn about conflict-resolution and team-building skills through a game of tag or by making up a skit to act out for their peers, not only are they happier and more engaged because they are having fun, they are also learning and retaining valuable lessons about equality, acceptance and respect.

We see that it works and is contributing to addressing critical issues in global development agendas. Children in Thailand, after six months of participation in Right To Play’s programmes, were more motivated and more likely to participate in school. 92% of children in Uganda in Right To Play’s programmes knew ways of preventing HIV transmission compared to 50% among children not in the programmes. Finally, there was a considerable reduction in the incidence of violence among children in Liberia, as they learnt, through Right To Play’s games, to manage conflict through dialogue, reasoning and avoidance.

IDSDP gives everyone a reason to join in, celebrate and highlight the role of sport in global development. It reminds us of the benefits that sport and play bring to the personal development of children and young people and it reinforces the value our programmes are bringing to over one million children around the world.

Overcoming fears

Fares an eight year old boy, was caught in the middle of the siege in Yarmouk, one of the bloodiest battles to date in the ongoing Syrian war. He and his family fled their home and took refuge in Lebanon, becoming one of the 1.2 million Syrian refugees registered there.

Even after his family reached safety, the sounds of the bombs, shootings and the violence stayed with the little boy. Fares developed severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

His extreme anxiety was overwhelming and he began to suffer from panic attacks. Fares couldn’t sleep and he stopped communicating with others, causing him to isolate himself at school and fall behind.

Soon, Fares stopped going to school regularly. His mother took him to several doctors, but they could offer no solutions.

On a rare day when Fares felt well enough to attend school, his teacher—a newly-trained Right To Play coach—introduced one of our educational games to his class. Fares was captivated. The fun, learning activities allowed him to relax and be a child again. Playing in an inclusive, accepting and safe environment also helped to reduce his severe anxiety and build friendships with his classmates.

Since that day, Fares has attended school regularly. He looks forward to going and eagerly participates in Right To Play lessons. He has begun to recover from the psychological traumas he experienced. Our play-based learning approach has increased his concentration and he has made several friends with whom he plays and studies. His education and life are now back on track.

“I cannot express how happy I am to see my child transforming this much,” says Fares’ mother.