On a dusty open-air pitch, a group of girls and boys play an energetic game of football. Their voices fill the air as they call out to each other. The game is fast and intense. Neither the hot sun nor the fact that several of the children are running in bare feet breaks their concentration. They are focused on who can score the next goal and win the game.
New to the football team is Debora and while her footwork isn’t as quick as some of the others and she’s still learning the rules of the game, she’s already a champion. Debora is an anomaly in Maputo, Mozambique, where football is seen exclusively as a boys' and men's sport. By joining her male classmates on the field, she’s helping break the current status quo.
"I saw that some of the girls from my class were joining
in and playing football with the boys,” says Debora.
“I wanted to play, too.”
Gaining permission to play however, wasn’t easy. Debora’s grandmother, whom she lives with, forbid her participation. Growing up in the conservative, southeast African country, Debora knew it was uncommon for girls to be footballers. Pulling girls out of school at the age of 12 to help with the housework and to look after younger siblings is more common. So is child marriage with more than 21 per cent of girls married by the age of 15; 56 per cent by the age of 18. Like many parents and caretakers in Mozambique, Debora’s grandmother followed these cultural traditions, believing that girls do not require an education and that an early marriage is their best and safest path towards economic security. But Debora disagreed. She’d been playing games and activities in her classroom at school and was learning that sports are for everyone.
Trained in Right To Play’s play-based approach to learning, Debora’s teacher was using games and songs to motivate and engage both the girls and the boys in their lessons and to increase their participation in class. The child-friendly and inclusive environment was strengthening the teacher-student relationship and building the children’s trust. Outside the classroom, the teacher was using rounds of football to build the students’ communication, acceptance and collaboration skills, proving that girls and boys share the same capabilities and abilities. With each newly learned and remembered skill, Debora’s confidence and courage were growing. Being given the same right as boys to participate in and outside the classroom showed Debora that she is worthy and it empowered her to persevere with her grandmother.
With the support of her teacher and classmates, Debora approached her grandmother again, this time sharing her awareness about children's rights and the benefits of girls participating in sports. Debora explained how playing with her classmates was fun, how she was learning to communicate with her peers and how football was teaching her to believe in herself.
As Debora’s grandmother’s resistance diminished and her acceptance and comfort level with her granddaughter’s school experiences grew, she agreed to allow Debora to play football. She also gave Debora permission to join the school’s football team.
"Before, I did not like playing football, because I did not know that playing is my right and I was afraid to play with the boys,” says Debora. “But after a few drills on the field, I discovered that I enjoy football and I am a skilled player.”
Now, Debora plays every day, demonstrating to everyone in her community that girls have the power to do anything they put their minds to. She is one of approximately 45,000 primary school-age girls receiving a play-based, quality education from Right To Play-trained teachers across the country. Using Right to Play's play-based approach, these teachers are capitalizing on the children's full engagement through games, sports and activities to advance learning, encourage equal participation and reduce gender-based discrimination.
Not only are girls like Debora attending and staying in school, they are understanding their rights, building valuable life skills like decision making, cooperation and problem solving, have increased opportunity to take on leadership roles in their communities and are overcoming barriers one football game at a time.
“With Right To Play’s games and lessons, I learned to
like sports and to respect others,” says Debora.
“It’s grown my self-esteem.”
Story by Adriana Ermter with files from Nelson Mutsando