Allyson Felix inspired by girls in Mozambique
On the field outside a primary school in Mozambique, children form two lines. They’re getting ready for a relay race. But instead of a baton, the students will pass along pieces of paper bearing their fundamental rights.
The students penned messages about their right to learn, play, and live in a safe environment on yellow and blue paper. With their note in hand, each sprinter bolts toward a designated marker in the sand where they hand off their right to a teammate to continue the race. The schoolyard fills with laughter and the collective power and perseverance of young people literally claiming and defending their rights.
One girl raises her hand and asks if she can challenge U.S. track star and Olympian Allyson Felix to a race. After a nail-biting relay that kicks up sand and solicits wild cheering from the other children, the determined young sprinter wins. Barefoot and triumphant—her right held high above her head.
Allyson Felix became an Ambassador for Right To Play in 2011. Since then, she’s become the most decorated track and field athlete in Olympic history, an entrepreneur, and a mother. But she’s always been a fierce advocate for maternal health and girls’ empowerment.
Allyson first witnessed the power of play-based learning in Mozambique seven years ago. Her return to the school was an opportunity to learn about the work that has taken place to help children, especially girls, in the Namaacha region thrive and develop their full potential with access to quality education.
“I don't think there’s any part that I enjoy more about Right To Play than coming and visiting the programs,” says Allyson. “Now as a mother, I think I have an even greater appreciation for the work Right To Play does. When we go into the schools and I see the kids, I have thoughts of my own daughter and how powerful the work of play is in transforming a life.”
Play In Action
During her time at the school, Allyson went from classroom to classroom and watched as teachers used games to deconstruct difficult concepts and encourage children to speak up for themselves. She also visited the school’s Reading Club, where instructors use games and play-based activities to help children strengthen their understanding of core literacy concepts and practice their reading skills. They also learn about the importance of treating all children equally, regardless of their gender.
“I really enjoyed it when we were playing the games and seeing how the kids were able to reflect afterwards and talk about what was learned,” says Allyson. “They were grasping what was happening and relating it to their own circumstances and challenges that they’re facing. It’s just amazing seeing how the programs are having an impact on them.”
“One of the things that really sticks out to me is just the joy that the children have, and they have really challenging circumstances.”
Rising to Meet Their Goals
Allyson met with members of a Right To Play Girls’ Club, a place where young women share their stories and educate each other about their right to stand up to pressure, stay in school, and resist early marriage. To the girls seated before her, Allyson recounted her own personal story. She shared that as a young black woman who knew at age 14 that she had a gift for speed, she needed to work hard and believe in herself to overcome systemic obstacles. She asked the girls what they want to be when they grow up.
“It really stuck out to me when they talked about what they want to be. They had these amazing goals, like professor, singer, and athlete. We understand that they have to stay in school and that there are so many challenges that they have to overcome to be able to reach those goals.”
“Every time I meet with these girls, I just feel I’m where I should be.”
“As I've grown and had a lot of different experiences, it’s brought me to this place where I want to do things that have impact, that are meaningful,” says Allyson. “The work that’s being done here regarding maternal health and early pregnancy and trying to delay that really resonates with me. I want to focus on girls, and as my work with Right To Play continues, I want to be working wherever gender inequality is an issue. Every time I meet with these girls, I just feel I’m where I should be.”
Read more about Right To Play Girls' Clubs here.