Right To Play brings hockey to Aboriginal youth

Hockey player Caroline Ouellette, and Beninese delegates Naimatou Gbadamassi and Christiane Boton at the Right to Play talk. Photo courtesy Right to Play

Hockey player Caroline Ouellette, and Beninese delegates Naimatou Gbadamassi and Christiane Boton at the Right to Play talk. Photo courtesy Right to Play

Two more remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario will soon be getting the“right to play,” according to members of a humanitarian and development organization, at a special public awareness event at McGill on March 14.

Right to Play uses the power of sport and play to build essential skills in children and drive social change in communities affected by war, poverty and disease. The organization currently operates in 20 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. It trains local community leaders as coaches to deliver their programs.

In 2010, the international organization began working with two of Canada’s First Nations communities in Northern Ontario. According to Sarah Stern, manager of corporate partnerships for Right To Play, the program was so successful, they decided to expand.

“When we were in these communities doing research, we learned that they really like hockey, they wanted their children to be able to play hockey, and they wanted us to teach the children lessons through hockey,” she said to a small crowd at McGill’s Leacock Theatre.

Soon after completing their research, members of the organization implemented a ‘hockey for development’ curriculum specifically for those communities. The program is called Promoting Life-skills for Aboriginal Youth.

The program is guided by the principle of inclusion, which promotes the involvement of children who may be marginalized for reasons such as gender, disability, and religion. According to its website, Right To Play stimulates and motivates local communities to engage in entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainable development practices.

With support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Right To Play invited two delegates, Christiane Boton and Mainatou Gbadamassi, from its program in Benin – a small country in West Africa – to come speak in Montreal along with women’s hockey player and three-time Olympic gold medalist, Caroline Ouellette, who also happens to be one of the organization’s athlete ambassadors.

The speeches given by the delegates on Monday centered on the transformative power of sport in the lives of some of the world’s most disadvantaged youth. Throughout the talk, the organizers encouraged members of the audience to play little games representative of the ones they taught to children around the world.

Boton, the project coordinator of Right To Play in Benin, spoke of her experiences with the organization. “When Right To Play was introduced to Benin, it changed many things. It worked with schools. The girls would watch how the boys suddenly wanted to go to school to participate in Right To Play activities, so they started demanding of their parents to go to school as well to play and learn,” she said. Boton and Gbadamassi were delighted at the opportunity to visit Canada for the first time.

When Ouellette took to the stand, one audience member was so excited, he could barely wait for the question and answer period to blurt out that he wanted to admire Ouellette’s Vancouver medal up close, which she had brought along for that purpose.

“I don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t get the opportunity to play sports,” Ouellette said with gratitude. She explained that she felt a bond with those girls in Benin and other countries involved with Right To Play that face obstacles which stop them from playing sports and being involved.

“I always knew I wanted to play hockey. In 1986, when I first asked my dad to play, he said no. Back then, girls did not play hockey and he was scared I would get hurt,” she explained. “It was finally my Mom, after two years of begging, who bought me my first hockey skates. I was so happy I was getting the right to play, I wanted to prove to the boys I played with that I belonged there.”

Right To Play does not invite volunteers along to their programs anymore, as it detracts from the work, Stern said.

“Just go out and tell a couple of people about us, so hopefully when we come back again, we can fill this room,” she said, looking around at the sparsely filled room.

To find out more about Right to Play, visit their website at www.righttoplay.ca


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