Right To Play/Canada/the team/Aslan Hasanov

Training Community Volunteers to Become Leaders

June 2008

In any community, it often just takes just one person to get the ball rolling in the direction of positive social change. In the northern Guba region of Azerbaijan, a Right To Play volunteer named Aslan Hasanov has grown from simply donating his free time to help out at a school to becoming a strong role model for children, a leader in his community and a catalyst for behaviour change.

 While Right To Play programs are beneficial to all the students who have the opportunity to participate in them, the sport and play activities go an especially long way toward improving the lives of children who live year-round at boarding schools. Aslan, a local Physical Education teacher, volunteers regularly with the children at Zardabi Boarding School in Guba. He teamed up with Right To Play to be trained in Red Ball Child Play, which promotes holistic child development through sport and play activities. Having helped run the program throughout the school year with the support of Right To Play Project Coordinators, Aslan stepped up to lead regular activities during the summer months for the children who remained at the school.

As a result of building his own capacity as a Leader, Aslan has enhanced the partnerships between Zardabi School, the Right To Play team and the rest of the community.  

 Aslan’s dedication and leadership have made him a positive role model for the children, which is particularly important for those who are raised outside of the traditional family setting. “I volunteer, particularly during the summer, because I don’t want the children to feel isolated or bored,” he said. “I hope that these activities make their lives more interesting and enjoyable.”

 In fact, Aslan’s impact on the children goes far beyond keeping them entertained. The Right To Play activities used by Aslan and other volunteers provide children with critical physical, social and emotional development to which they may not otherwise have access. Poverty, dissolution of the family unit and disability are believed to be the most common reasons why an estimated 20,000 children in Azerbaijan attend schools like Zardabi. “Most children in our school have one or both parents, but they are either unemployed or just do not have the money to feed them,” said Abid Yusifov, the school director.

 The children’s circumstances make Aslan’s work with them all the more meaningful. The Play Days he led for the children in the summer of 2008 were widely successful. These were two day-long series of activities aimed to mobilize and strengthen the community around critical issues such as inclusion, children’s rights, and HIV and AIDS. The success of the Play Days was highlighted by Aslan’s ability to include children living with disabilities and to bring together children who live at Zardabi School to interact with children from the community, providing them with a sense of belonging and integration into the community.

 “The most wonderful thing for me was seeing the relationship that has developed between Aslan and the children,” said Right To Play Project Coordinator Sabir Mammadov. “They have become quite close and they really look up to him.”

 The students participating in Aslan’s programs will be able to pass these skills on to other community volunteers, as well as gaining valuable job skills that will create the foundation for community development. Elmira, the oldest girl at Zardabi at 17 years old, is already following in Aslan’s footsteps. At the first Play Day in July, she led games for some of the younger children at the school. This kind of leadership development is just one of the positive changes Aslan has noticed among the children since he began using Right To Play games with them. “I have noticed that the behaviour of the children has improved,” he said. “They have a better understanding of others, are more empathetic, and have improved self-expression.”

 Aslan plans to continue volunteering his time to work with the children of Zardabi Boarding School and hopes to continue to create a positive impact on their lives. Through the Play Days and other events that he has helped coordinate, Aslan has greatly aided Right To Play in facilitating collaboration between community-based organizations, NGOs and other agencies, so that these groups can better reach shared development goals.