Right to Play is a charitable organisation that uses play and sport to reach and educate children who come from regions affected by adversities such as conflict and poverty. It was founded by Johann Olav Koss, a Norwegian Olympic gold medallist who was moved by the realities of war when he visited Eritrea a few months before the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Right to Play uses sports and play-based activities to positively impact the lives of children, most of whom have gone through the realities of abuse, exploitation and war. The programs that the organisation uses are meant to educate and empower children, helping them to attend school, protect themselves from disease and make positive behaviour changes. The five key areas that the organisation focuses on are gender equality, quality education, health and wellbeing, peace in communities and child protection.
The sports and play-based programs are delivered in community settings and within schools in the countries where Right to Play operates. These programs aim to build children’s self-confidence, teach life skills, and educate on subjects such as science, math and English. Through these activities, the charity has witnessed an improvement in understanding of various issues including sexual and reproductive health, hygiene, sanitation and disease prevention.
By having different types of play activities to engage in, children gain the opportunity to learn. Some of these activities are carried out inside the classroom as part of the learning experience, while outdoor games provide opportunities to gain life skills through performance, dance or music. More specifically, Right to Play offers four types of play:
- Games: These are used to make learning engaging and help children play an active role in their development.
- Sport: Sports helps children develop positive values and behaviours in a welcoming environment.
- Creative Play: Encompasses activities such as drama and art that allow children to express themselves and engage with various topics.
- Free Play: Children get to play in safe, child-friendly environments that provide a place to interact freely.
Right to Play has established programs in various countries across the globe, including Burundi, Canada, China, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Thailand and Uganda, among others.
The success of Right to Play’s programs around the world depends on the efforts of a team comprising both paid staff, program leaders and volunteer ambassadors. This team is led by a global executive team that has a diverse group of individuals, each with the desire to see children rise. Norwegian business executive Ragnar Horn is part of the charity’s Global Leadership Council, which has members from different countries around the world.
Initially, the charity was known as Olympic Aid, established to raise funds for regions affected by conflict and other disasters. Much of the fundraising was through the efforts of athletes, with Mr. Koss among them. His trip to Eritrea moved his heart to make a difference, and after a successful Olympic campaign, he channelled his winnings to Olympic Aid. In the succeeding years, the organisation continued to raise funds to help those affected by disaster and war, and it wasn’t until 2000 that it officially became Right to Play. Mr. Koss, then the chief executive officer, helped the charity become a non-governmental organisation and establish its headquarters in Toronto.
In countries such as Ethiopia, Right to Play has used its play-based approach to reach out and assist deaf people and those living with disabilities. At one such school in Addis Ababa, the teachers use Ethiopian Sign Language to instruct children and help them attend class, learn, and play with others in a safe environment. By actively including students of all levels of ability, the organisation is playing a vital role in debunking the myths and prejudices regarding various disabilities.