Playing For Peace in Dadaab
Dadaab holds the unfortunate title to being the largest refugee camp in the world. Hostility and segregation are also facts of life.
Comprised of five camps, it is home to more than 600,000 registered refugees, with more than half of the population being children under the age of 12. Gladys (left) was only 14-years-old when she arrived at Dagahaley from Sudan in 1992. Even as a child herself, she noticed that children born there often struggled to define their identities, feel a sense of security, or build confidence to interact with individuals from other communities. Roughly 90 percent of the population in the Kenyan refugee camp came from Somalia; Gladys belonged to the five percent from Sudan.
When Right To Play programs began in 2012, she leapt at the opportunity to become a Coach. Maybe it was her love for playing with kids, or maybe being part of the minority taught her how lonely it was to feel isolated. Regardless, she knew Right To Play was the key.
“Starting activities was not easy at first,” she said. “The challenge was playing with girls especially from other communities, where some are restricted by their culture from open participation and mingling with boys.”
To her delight, she found other female Coaches trained in the same program from the Somali community. They teamed-up to help the children play together, teaching them about respecting different cultures and religions.
The games suddenly attracted children from every community.
“By the end of the first month, the inter-community hostility lessened. Curious parents from other communities began bringing their children to the play field and watched how they participated joyfully.”
Even females were included: “Girls from my community felt safer walking to the field as the children stopped throwing stones at them.”
Now working as a Coach Supervisor, Gladys is looking to help organize an Intercommunity Sports Day for Women, with the support of the entire community as a whole.
Twenty years later, Gladys continues to call Dadaab home. With refugees arriving regularly, she knows the challenges of growing up in a refugee camp, and is an invaluable source for the children who are in the midst of flux.
“I find it easier to relate with different people from various backgrounds,” she said.
“I’m glad I volunteered.”
Since beginning with Right To Play as a volunteer Coach, Gladys has become a Coach Supervisor, training Coaches to work with children who are undergoing similar transition. Her work is helping to bring unity and peace among the diverse populations living in the tight quarters of a refugee camp.