introducing marije dippel from right to play.
When we think of play, we often think of fun. And for good reason. Play is a core part of most people’s childhood. Outside, inside, at home or at school, play is cemented in our memories of growing up, having good times, making friends and experiencing new things. But it’s also easy to overlook the deeper, potentially more meaningful benefits of play. Play helps develop self-esteem, sociability and independence, it improves creativity, imagination and problem solving, and it enhances memory and academic performance.
It’s also easy to take for granted something that for many seems a natural given of life. But for those living in poverty or in countries ravaged by war, for those with little access to education or healthcare and for those where abuse, exploitation and danger are commonplace, play takes on new meaning.
For twenty years, Right To Play has been protecting, educating and empowering the most vulnerable children in the world through the magic of play. Whilst their efforts start with a seemingly simple in-classroom game, outdoor sport or role-play, they know that play leads to so much more. And their impact is truly staggering. We talked to Marije Dippel, Director of Right To Play Netherlands, about why Right To Play is a necessity, the best and worst things about working for an impact-driven organization and how the pandemic has changed play.
Why is play so powerful for children?
Play has a vital role in developing all kinds of skills such as confidence, creativity, perseverance, focus, sharing, listening and more. It promotes the holistic development of a child and plays an essential role from birth onwards. And of course, it’s fun!
What do Right To Play do?
Right To Play is a global organization that protects, educates and empowers children to rise above adversity. We work with children in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth, helping them to stay in school and graduate, resist exploitation, overcome prejudice, prevent disease and heal from war and abuse.
For twenty years, we’ve been pioneers of a unique approach to learning in which we harness play to help children dismantle barriers and embrace opportunities. We are the only global development organization focused exclusively on using the power of play to transform children’s lives.
We reach 2.35 million children each year in 15 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. By collaborating with teachers, governments, communities and parents, we unlock children’s potential, enabling them to make positive and healthy choices and to create better futures for themselves, their families and their societies.
And why did you feel Right To Play is necessary? What problems do the children you help face that means Right To Play is such an important organization?
Children cannot grow and thrive in environments where they are threatened by exploitation, violence and abuse. Sustainable change in children’s lives begins by ensuring that they are protected and safe. In many places where Right To Play works, children grow up in poverty, they suffer from inequality, abuse and exploitation and many of them have been forced to flee their homes with their families. These children’s futures are threatened by child marriage, child labor and forced participation in conflicts. They have no access to quality education or healthcare and their future perspective is grim.
So, we prevent and respond to these situations and create positive and safe environments where children can learn and succeed. The result is empowered children with the confidence and knowledge they need to become positive forces for change in their families, their communities and even their countries.
This result is what makes Right To Play necessary. We do not only change the life of one child but strive for change at a broader level which is needed to disrupt the cycle of exploitation violence and abuse.
Some of your results were fascinating; how play can improve education, safety and tolerance. Whilst some specifics (prevention of HIV transmission) are more context dependent, do you think children all over the world, from all walks of life, can benefit in the same ways from play?
Yes, I believe play is one of the most fundamental forces in a child’s life, wherever a child grows up. The barriers and opportunities for each child may be different, but the skills they develop through play are the same.
What’s the best thing about working in an impact-driven organization?
It’s incredibly fulfilling to work for Right To Play. I’m proud of how much we’ve accomplished with our partners and supporters, and it’s wonderful to see children we’ve worked with become leaders in their communities and beyond.
As Right To Play was founded twenty years ago, we recently visited some of the children who joined our programs in the past and asked them about the impact Right To Play had in their lives. What came out of it was so inspiring. Their stories about growth and happiness is my proof of why it’s so good to work for an impact-driven organization.
If you would like to read about some of children Right To Play have helped, you can start with the inspiring story of Aissa from Mali here.
And what’s the worst thing?
The tough part is that sustainable change (behavioral, cultural, legal etc) requires long term involvement and investment. And for that, we need a lot of partners and supporters who commit over many years. That’s not always easy to realize, especially not in times of economic setback. We understand that people tend to look closer to home in such times, but we hope that many will hold on to a global outlook and feel solidarity with children who may be far away but are in need.
Besides that, I have colleagues all around the world who work in extremely difficult, testing circumstances. Those in Lebanon, for example, who have for over a decade been tirelessly uplifting the lives of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian refugee children using the power of play. It’s fulfilling but also physically, mentally and emotionally tough. And the recent, devastating explosion in Beirut has only made things harder for the children and families that we help there. There is so much work to do so that they can recover from the intense grief and loss that the explosion has caused. It is a major setback for the country, our team and the children.
Is play important for everyone, not just children?
Definitely. Whilst it’s crucial that children play, we believe adults too (parents or not) should include more play in their daily lives. From increased energy and productivity to improved creativity, cooperation and leadership, everyone can benefit from play. We provide play experiences for our corporate partners (together with vitality partner Lifeguard and with the School of Life), and we’re always open for anyone in the B. community to drop by for some play-based learning ideas to do yourself or with your team.
Since play is inherently tied to connection, closeness and other people, how has coronavirus affected your priorities and operations?
Coronavirus has affected our work a lot. Children have been deprived of in-school learning and social contact. Social distancing measures have also led to increased stress levels within families due to job loss, isolation, idleness, lack of personal space and fears over health and finance. There has also been an increased risk of domestic violence, corporal punishment and exploitation.
Our goals, to keep children safe, healthy and strong and to keep them learning, haven’t changed since the pandemic, but the way we’re implementing our activities have changed. We’ve worked on raising awareness of COVID-19 prevention using mobile, radio, TV, videos and distributed printed materials to reach as many as we can in the communities where we work, and we’ve designed games and activities for the children and encourage parents and caregivers to participate.
We’re also actively supporting learning for children in the absence of regular school days through Right To Play’s play-based activities. For this we’re using local and national TV, radio and online channels to deliver games targeted for specific learnings and outcomes. And as each county’s situation changes, we’ll be developing other forms of distanced learning so that we can continue to help in whatever ways we can.
What does the Netherlands specifically bring to Right To Play?
The Dutch team brings a special creativity, positive energy and can-do mentality into the international Right To Play family. We believe in the benefits of diversity and the Dutch team is an extension of that belief. Also, we have some incredible long-term partners in the Netherlands including the National Postcode Lottery, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and sports brand ASICS. And last but not least, we have several inspiring athletes and artists who, like us, believe in the power of play and help us promote our work. They include, for example, the number one female soccer goalie in the world, Sari van Veenendaal; TV cook and winner of expedition Robinson Hugo Kennis; rapper and singer-songwriter Diggy Dex; former hockey player and poker star hero Fatima Moreira de Melo; heptathlete Anouk Vetter and skeleton hero Akwasi Frimpong.
What’s next for Right to Play?
More play to help create positive change for more children around the world.