Pakistan – Sport and play benefits children affected by violence

The benefits of play are even more pronounced in the most difficult of circumstances. One of those circumstances is being displaced within one’s own country. Internally displaced persons (IDP) suffer a special pain in that they are so close, yet so far, from their home. Great work by Right to Play to bring a semblance of home to IDPs and for working out a way to get girls involved.

From Right to Play,

Sport and play benefits children affected by violence

By Zehra Kamal, Program Manager, Islamabad
Right To Play, Pakistan

Pakistani girls
Girls participate in Right To Play games at a temporary camp in Mardan City.

The trauma inflicted on children and entire families by civil conflict and displacement are not easily removed and require effort over a long period of time. By working with people living in camps for internally displaced persons, Right To Play provides children and families with hope, and equips them with skills to deal with their current difficult situation in the best possible way that they can.

Having established a reputation for positive results in the region, Right To Play was asked by Pakistan’s Department of Education to offer activities to children after the conflict between the army and Taliban militants in May 2009 caused an influx of displaced persons from the Swat Valley, in north-western Pakistan and the surrounding area. Right To Play now offers sport and play activities to more than 2,500 children attending temporary schools in the camps in Mardan City.  These children are learning important skills that help them deal with and overcome the trauma incurred by the violence and conflict they were exposed to.

The programs are run by 16 Head Coaches, all of whom received training from Right To Play on “Understanding Psychosocial Support for Children”. The training focuses on the concept of psychosocial support principles, psychological impact on children at different ages, vulnerabilities of children, ethics of working with children, communication tools as well as ways of dealing with secondary trauma and stress.

“Two girls, ages 17 and 18, would often watch Right To Play games being played with younger children. They approached me and asked to join the games as well as attending the classes.  They had never been to school and wanted to study. I took their request to the Principal who inducted them in the basic class. They also help me with the games.”
Fahmeeda, Right To Play Head Coach

The conditions at the temporary camps are difficult. Children lack proper playgrounds and are exposed to scorching heat. The children attending the temporary schools range in age from five to 15, and they have all experienced fear, physical pain and despair after witnessing acts of violence and death or hearing stories of conflict from family and friends. Their drawings often reflect their experiences and feelings of fear and violence. Some children, while playing, act out incidents of violence, while others are withdrawn, fearful and isolated. They are afraid of people who remind them in any way of the perpetrators of violence they witnessed and are made anxious by the sound of helicopters and other sudden or loud noises.

In a culture where female sports are looked down upon, the female Coaches have been successful in some areas to allow girls to play. Rabia Akbar, a Coach working in the camp’s school said, “When I started taking the girls out to play the Right To Play games, the men resisted and demanded from the school Principal that only girls between ages three and six years play outside. I was called in by the Principal about this and I asserted the right of these girls to play and proposed using a smaller, less conspicuous ground for their play. Later I was told that the men agreed to this compromise. I am happy to be working with the girls especially on issues of cleanliness and helping them overcome their fears and concerns related to the internal conflict and displacement.”