2017 International Project

WAP 2017: Bosnia

We drove into Mostar in darkness, the glittering lights that lay before us heralded a glimpse of what the city would offer us in the coming two weeks. But, the city lights were also a reminder that we had reached our final country, the last stop of our WAP 2017 international project. So, we began in Bosnia with one less team member (don’t worry, he didn’t disappear! He just got a job in Colombia), and with the bittersweet knowledge that our trip was coming to a close. The bar set for Bosnia, being our last country, was pretty high. But it didn’t disappoint. Walks through the old town, eating fresh burek from the bakery, visiting waterfalls and being hosted by the wonderful Taso were just some of Mostar’s highlights. Nevertheless no amount of tasty pastry will top the enjoyment of sessions.

 

After being on the road for eight weeks, the inexhaustible list of games from our wonderful manual began looking pretty exhaustible! It therefore meant we decided to be more creative and invent some new games. A great mental exercise. A personal favourite from our new games is WASH ON WASH OFF. It involves a washing line, bibs and a lot of running up and down! Safe to say, the individuals we worked with had a great time playing it.

 3

Image: Team Leader Mariah 

Something that didn’t change was that the greatest challenges continued to become the most rewarding and enjoyable moments. At Los Rosales, we worked with individuals with disabilities, and every other day ran a session with autistic children. We (naively) thought we were prepared for our first session with them, having come up with a plan that had games we knew worked well with groups with disabilities. It turned out we very much weren’t. At the beginning of our trip we wrote letters to our future, post-WAP expedition selves. In my letter I wrote: “I hope you’ve had both good sessions and bad, because you’ll survive both.” What I failed to mention was that, one, I would do much more than just survive, but also that the sessions would push us so much harder to improve. We regrouped as a team after our first autism session, sat down and came up with a game plan. As a result, these half an hour sessions came to be the ones I looked forward to most. The relationships fostered with the children were very special and the activities we did meant we could see progress in the short time we were there.

1

 Image: Volunteer Dan mid session in Mostar

We ended our time in Bosnia with a session at SOS Mostar. It had the all the hallmarks of a great WAP session: fun, loud, seamless and slightly chaotic. It felt full circle and the perfect way to end our experience. I have had the most amazing experience on this trip and I am so grateful to everyone that is part of World at Play. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for giving me the most incredible eleven weeks!

 

Written and edited by Ayelen

2Image: Session at Los Rosales, Mostar

Check out videos from the sessions in Mostar here


 

 WAP 2017: Kosovo

Writing to you from Pristina, which is the capital city of the newest country in Europe: Kosovo.

Here in Kosovo, WAP is working primarily in a small village outside of Pristina called Gracanica. Gracanica is quite a small village, however, most people in Pristina could tell you exactly where it is. Why? The majority of people who live in Gracanica are Serbian, and quite proud to be so.

With the recent Kosovo war (a war that gave Kosovo it’s independence from Serbia) there is some lingering contempt amongst the local Kosovars and the community of Gracanica, due to Gracanica’s exalted Serbian Heritage.

Due to this lingering contempt, some of the communities within Gracanica are marginalised. One of these communities is the Serbian Roma community, who have a large population living within Gracanica.

  • If this is your first reading of Roma people, find out more here

Now, we have a Roma community, who are often marginalized from society, living within Gracanica, which is a community ostracised within Kosovan society. Hence, the children within the Gracanica Roma community often lack in options for organised sport and play programming, which is where World at Play comes in. I’d love to share some of my experience working in Gracanica.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Our work with the Gracanica Roma children was both exciting and slightly disheartening.

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 8.58.12 PM

Image: GAIA

It was extremely exciting working with these children as they had a lot of energy that we could channel into great sport and play sessions. However, it was disheartening in that the more we interacted with them, the more evident their lack of support and marginalisation became.

During our work in Gracanica, I developed a great relationship with a boy named Izmir. Izmir loved to be thrown around and carried, and he really enjoyed having older people around to play with.

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 8.58.31 PM

Image: GAIA

However, Izmir’s great smile when the WAP van rolled in was not only noticed by us, it was also noticed by his peers.

On our last day of sessions, I was over pumping up footballs donated by Vaughan Soccer Club as we were giving them to the children’s teacher at the end of our session. During this pump-up, one of the youth saw me with brand new footballs and naturally, he came over curious and hoping to get a football. This was usual, as in all the centres we have worked, youth have been very curious when new footballs came out. However, it was what he did next that struck me.

He marched off after hearing the footballs where not for him but for his teacher and 30 seconds later, he returned. However, he wasn’t alone.

Holding Izmir by the collar of his shirt, arm cocked and ready to sock Izmir in the jawline, this little boy demanded a football from me. This child couldn’t have been more than 9 years old.

Quickly addressing the imminent violence, it was an overt reminder of the environment in which some these children are forced to grow up. This child felt his adverse action could produce a positive outcome for him, something likely stemming from his everyday reality. It was not a possibility in his mind that these footballs could be for him to play with in school, so he reacted on his desire for a football with an action that is likely familiar to him… violence.

This example was a great reminder that some of the youth we work with have grown up in an environment where they must be very vigilant of their surroundings, both within their friend groups and in the neighbourhood in which they live. This environment is an extremely difficult one to live in, one not conducive to positive development.

However, I was proud that our WAP team was able to create an environment where the usual prejudice, the everyday marginalisation, did not have an effect on how we played games. We worked to cultivate an environment of teamwork, through cooperative games and sport, while also fostering communication to settle arguments, not allowing for violence to occur amongst the youth in our sessions. We did our best to promote positive development, through affirmation of constructive behaviour and encouragement to try something new, without fear of ridicule.

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 8.58.39 PM

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 8.58.24 PM

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 8.58.46 PM

Images: GAIA

Although we cannot change the overarching system in which these kids exist, we can change a few hours of their reality

Our work in Kosovo made me proud to be a WAPPER.

Thank you for supporting!

Love,

Big C

You can watch more on WAP’s time in Kosovo here


 

WAP 2017: Bulgaria

This past week the #WAP2017 team has been in Sofia and Harmanli, Bulgaria, working within various refugee camps. We have had the pleasure of working with a range of refugees from a wide array of backgrounds. We’ve cuddled Syrian toddlers and have had epic cricket matches with Afghani adults. We’ve heard the stories of young men looking to join their families somewhere in this world. We’ve met individuals from four separate refugee camps, in two distinct cities, and each has their own unique story. However, they have all had one thing in common: sport and play grants them a few hours of unbridled joy.

In one of the refugee camps in Sofia, we were lucky enough to experience Afghani, Syrian, and Iranian culture through dance! We would see the individuals in the camp light up when we brought out our speaker. So, of course, we handed them the aux cord. In turn, they put on a jaw dropping performance of their native dances. I was blown away by their talent and the joy that the music from their home countries brought them.

I entered each camp knowing that there were obvious cultural differences regarding gender and participation in sport and play. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the welcoming nature of people in the camps. I was told that in Afghani culture, the women don’t dance. Naturally, as a woman, I thought this concept would apply to me as well. So, you can imagine my surprise when one of the young men approached me and vehemently asked why I was not dancing! After seeing that I had no reasonable response, he proceeded to pull me into the middle of the dance party that the refugees and WAP members were having. This little act of inclusion caught me off guard but also gave me hope. If these displaced men and women can come together through their mutual love of dance, bringing their beautiful cultures into one cohesive choreography, maybe others in different countries can also open up their dance floors to new and different dancing as well.

I hope these individuals never stop dancing. I hope that the passion in their eyes, which was accentuated during their dancing, continues wherever these people are situated, as it was is truly infectious.

Mariah and Colm

Here are some of the memories from our time in Sofia and Harmanli courtesy of Caritas.

22459464_857394347753274_4281010302078947560_o   22495964_857392791086763_7742063010822508795_o   22712410_860620150764027_8325368050237103732_o  22770039_860619247430784_928967555098529574_o  22770798_860619357430773_417344056045964261_o  22829129_860619290764113_2754822085066372985_o


 

WAP 2017: Serbia

How Was Serbia?

It has been a month since we met each other at Atlantic College. We have experienced some ups and downs as you may expect from any international project, but Serbia has been our greatest challenge so far. How will we be able to summarize two of the most exciting and difficult weeks of our lives as young adults?

We, as a team, have worked with three different centres in Novi Sad, a relatively big city in northern Serbia. The beginning of this adventure was not easy to handle, we were about to enter into a complex field: mental and physical disabilities. The scenario got more difficult when faced with illness in our group. Not to mention, the unexpected appearance of a ninth team member, Pluto the mouse! Let’s just say the hockey sticks from our sessions were put to good use. So was Serbia demanding for all of us? Of course it was. Was it worth it? 100%. We were able to build amazing relationships and add to the growing collection of rewarding memories from this expedition.

Sessions at Dom Veternik required a lot of patience and energy but were fulfilling. The group got to experience the real value of play and its impact on an individual. In particular, one fifteen-year-old girl had been disengaged for the first few days of sessions. This completely changed with the introduction of something the group considers a lifesaver: the parachute! The colours, movement and sound of it made her entire face light up, much to the amazement of us and her caretakers. She was totally transfixed and spent the rest of the session attempting to dive into the sea of rainbow colours.

Similarly, the personal impact was felt at MNRO , the day centre for intellectually disabled individuals. We knew about the language barrier, but we hadn’t truly experienced its limitations until now. It is hard to see someone crying, and not being able to console them is even harder. One individual was talking about her personal life and we were there just to listen. Although we could not understand a single word, the feeling at the end of that conversation was more than rewarding. She was happy and we were as well. We gave something that not many people have unfortunately given them, genuine interest.

The difficulties we faced in Serbia made our experience all the more special. On the last night at Dom Veternik we threw a party! Blaring music from the van seemed like a great idea, until the battery died.  Yet, even this event transformed itself. We now have a great memory of how all the residents of Dom Veternik helped jump start the van and cheered when the engine came back on.

MMulligan-76

MMulligan-18

MMulligan-85

MMulligan-101

Images: MNRONS and Dom Veternik Sessions

All that is left to say is: thank you Serbia, our partners and all the amazing people we met!

Ayelen and Felipe

Check out Serbia’s video here


 

WAP 2017: Croatia

Croatia for me was an amazing experience and when I think back to the time we, World at Play, spent there one moment really stands out for me. We did some great work individually with each of the three homes we went to however the session in the park where we combined the users from all three homes really highlighted how sport and play can change peoples lives. It was incredible to see teenagers and children of different ages, backgrounds and homes come together to play as one in a huge game of Tug of Strength. We carried on to play a massive game of football and we even saw some of the teenagers teach the children some of the games we taught them, such as American football. For me this was amazing to see as it proves that combining these individuals from different marginalized communities ignited the compassion in all of them, regardless of who you are we can all learn together through sport and play.   

We also experienced great revelations in our session with the homes individually. Our sessions at the teenagers home was primarily high octane competitive sport and I, as a female who has previously had little experience in football, entered feeling nervous about running these sessions. However, I was surprised to find that by the end of our time there the male teenagers wanted me on their team. In particular, on the last day we were there one of the older boys called me out to play on his team for a great game of football tennis. I hope that my participation in these games helped break some stereotypes about girls in sports for these young men and now I am fully confident for future sessions similar to these.

MMulligan-41

MMulligan-38

Photos: All three homes battling in Tug of Strength

Dan and Christina

Watch WAP’s time in Croatia here


WAP 2017: Training Week Blog

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the World At Play 2017 International Project Blog!

Over the next 10 weeks we are going to be driving about 2,809 miles and through five countries in the Balkans. Although before we set out we faced our first challenge as a team, training.  All great projects and teams need thorough training because as Benjamin Franklin said, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. There is no doubt that comprehensive training week is one of the key elements that fosters success and as Volunteer Christina said, “makes WAP stand out as a serious organization”.

Let’s Meet the Team

We are a quite International group of people this year. We have got Mariah and Colm, our dear Canadians, Dan and Ayelen our Brits, Meg from Cumru (Wales), Felipe and Ricardo our ‘Latinos’ respectively from Chile and Colombia, as well we have Christina our Norwegian fairy.

Although, we only met 7 days ago the team has become fast friends and it feels as though we have known each other for years. We bonded as a team and our individual confidence levels grew as we prepared for the potential challenges ahead. Throughout training week, we shared stories of leadership, coaching, and personal experiences. This led to open and honest discussion with one another allowing us to develop towards a common goal. WAP 2017 Volunteer Felipe said, “The training was really useful, I feel more prepared”.

Arriving at Atlantic College was a mesmerizing experience. Being greeted by St. Donat’s Castle was a great inspiration and introduction to the week we ahead. A massive thank you to our amazing hosts Atlantic College of the United World Colleges for welcoming us into your home.

Valuable Lessons from The Best Trainers

World at Play is an organization with extremely supportive Alumni who came to educate us on various sport and play related topics and develop new skills. For example, Pavlov made the trip up from London to share his knowledge on Eastern European culture and history. As well, he corrected our Serbian pronunciations and challenged us to lead games without the use of language. Thus, simulating the language barrier we would eventually face in Eastern Europe. However, we were able to use our native tongues or “gibberish”. A common theme arose of needing to exaggerate our expressions and demonstrations. This emphasized how important it is to use body language when teaching sport and play style games.

Skill develop continued with the help of alumni Luke who taught us the value of using imagination to transform spaces. Specifically, small spaces, as demonstrated by the T-Rex Game which never failed to make us laugh! As well, he cheered us on at our first practical session at Bonfaen Primary School and led a game showing us first hand how to turn a football field into a Pirate Ship and himself into a pirate.

Bontfaen PrimaryImage: The Team with Bontfaen Primary.

Alumni and guest professionals helped to simulate sessions where children with disruptive behaviour, learning disabilities and physical disabilities might be present.  Alumni Binti’s session, prepared us to cooperate as a team and be sensitive when individuals may require more attention. Simon, a guest professional from Disability Sports Wales, introduced us to inclusive language and adaptations within games around mental and physical disabilities. It was eye opening to experience things from the perspective of an individual in a wheel chair while playing a game. This granted us the tools to create and run a successful session at Cathays Inclusive Youth Project.

WAP Founder Mike shared his passion for WAP as he told us how the International Project originated. Specifically, how this experience impacted them and the people they visited in the initial expedition.

Later in the week Alumni Harry and Andy taught us the necessity of creating fun, competitive, and engaging games by keeping them simple with small progressions. As well, they showed us the importance of recognizing one another’s coaching styles as they ran a session with us and depicted their different coaching styles.

On our last night, the team had dinner with the whole World at Play Family which both inspired and instilled a sense of belonging to something bigger than just us eight.

Finally, we the WAP 2017 Team would like to extend a thank you to all of the World at Play Alumni and Professional Trainers that came throughout the week for providing us with confidence and new skills. All of which left us “buzzing for the adventure ahead” as said by WAP Volunteer Dan.

Thanks for reading!

Megan and Ricardo

Get an insight into training week 2017 here