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Play for Peace Program in Guatemala

Play for Peace Program in GuatemalaConDev and CDF have introduced Play for Peace® activities for kids, building upon Junior Master Gardener® programs in Guatemalan coffee-growing villages. Gardens are safe places to promote dialogue,  inclusion and teamwork. Through our Practice Peace Sessions, we are helping form the next generation of peace-builders. Through collaborative play, we teach Mayan kids how to cope with stress due to insecure and unfamiliar environments, poverty, and discrimination. Through the Play for Peace model, kids can become architects and leaders of sustained peace.

Read our latest Play for Peace Blog below, describing our first Practice Peace sessions in Guatemala:

Blog – Playing for Peace: Inspiring a New Generation of Peacemakers in Guatemala

By Johanna Roman,  Regional Lead for Latin America, ConDev Center & Program Manager, Conflict and Development Foundation

Most of us who have worked in international development are familiar with the challenges of conducting peace-building programs in communities deeply affected by conflict and poverty. After conducting numerous youth development programs in Central America for many years focusing on horticulture and nutrition, I decided to start a new program to incorporate play as a tool to teach respect, compassion, and perhaps break the cycle of violence, while helping kids become the new generation of peacemakers.

Play for Peace Program in GuatemalaWhile conducting food security programs for Mayan children, I quickly became aware of the many challenges of working with vulnerabe kids living in unsafe neighborhoods.

They have many problems in life – undernourishment, poverty, social exclusion, insecure environments, discrimination, and others. I wanted to conduct a program that could motivate kids to step away from their every-day challenges, bring joy to them, but also help them to become architects and leaders of peace.  I came across the Play for Peace® network, and rapidly became interested in how their volunteers and trainers use play as an innovative catalyst for peace.

That is why with support from the Conflict and Development Foundation, I decided to launch a new program in several Guatemalan villages: Playing for Peace. I want kids to learn about compassion, respect, and trust, all while having fun! These kids already have too many struggles.  I want to use collaborative play as a tool for promoting inclusion and peace. Through play, I want kids learn to care about each other; to share; to create solidarity; to work together and thus create a culture of peace.

One thing that I have learned is that when working with young kids, I have to expect the unexpected! I originally thought that kids that would attend my workshops would be sad and unmotivated because of the struggles they have in life. I was mistaken. When kids show up for one of my workshops, most of them share a sense of excitement and an eagerness to start participating! They come ready to engage in collaborative activities and in the process, they begin to make new friends. Laughter begins to emerge as soon as we start with our first activity.

Play for Peace® is a non-profit organization that works around the world to bring together children, youth, volunteers, and organizations from communities in conflict, using cooperative play to create laughter, compassion, and peace. I sought their expertise and recently held our initial “Jugando por la Paz” training workshop in Guatemala for a group of twenty Texas A&M University students who quickly learned effective tools to work with Mayan kids.

Sarah Gough, Executive Director for Play for Peace, quickly arranged for me to coordinate the first workshop in El Tejar, Guatemala. Andres Armas who has been a Play for Peace trainer for many years, conducted an intensive leaders training workshop. This is what happened:

Andres starts by asking everyone to stand in a circle. “Everyone is welcome, nobody is excluded” He says. In a circle, nobody has a better spot. “No one is behind you, no one is in front of you.” I observed how kids immediately felt part of a group.

Games are based on inclusion and participation from everyone; this generates communication, trust, respect. The end goal is to combine their skills and ideas and have fun in the process.

Andrés quickly engages students in a couple of ice-breaker games. Laughter begins to fill the room and the mood is set: This will be a fun event! Andrés facilitates several games and students are learning what it takes to be a good Play for Peace facilitator. The Play for Peace manual he shared with us includes a list of qualities: Be a good communicator; be kind; be friendly; be creative, be flexible, be sensible and be patient.

After this intensive training program for leaders, kids begin to arrive for the first practice session. They come in groups, happily walking through dusty roads holding hands and giggling. They come to an outdoor classroom and quickly become shy. It is time for the first ice-breaker. “Stand in a circle,” Andrés says. “Everyone is welcome.” They start with fun ice-breakers. Andrés had told students that the first 15-20 minutes of an event are critical, so they must choose their favorite activities. “Enjoy each activity” Andrés told the students.

It is amazing what can happen in two hours! A&M students who might had been anxious of working with kids or being unable to communicate with them because of the language barrier, are quickly leading games, holding kids and twirling them around, and sharing their laughter. “It is OK to be nervous,” Andres had told the students during the training session. “You are here to teach and to learn at the same time.”

Andres brings out a huge colorful parachute, a very big beach ball and colorful ropes, and soon nobody is nervous anymore. Everyone is engaged in teamwork activities and their enthusiasm is contagious! When they are having the most fun, Andrés stops the activity. Students are shocked, but what he said made sense: “Stop an activity at it’s peak, when kids are having the most fun.”

There are no barriers here. Nobody is thinking or acknowledging their differences. Everyone is sharing in the excitement of being part of a team. Some begin to exhibit leadership qualities. Some are happy just to follow and play along. Texas A&M students immediately apply the Play for Peace methodologies and kids respond very well and immerse themselves in cooperative play. The lessons on how to effectively work with kids are put into action. Kids are collaborating with each other, forming circles, laughing, learning, and forgetting for a few hours about all their struggles. They can’t wait until the next Play for Peace workshop.

I am now taking a course on the Science of Happiness to prepare for our next event in Guatemala. In our next Play for Peace training session, I would like to explore challenges in getting some of the more quiet kids to participate. I would also like to review tools on how to become comfortable leading a group. Also, I would like for our leaders to learn how to customize and deliver Play for Peace trainings to different groups of kids



Photo credits: Sofia Soto and Johanna Roman

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