The Power to Play

They’re Ready for Football

Were you among the millions of people watching NFL football yesterday? The Denver-New England game was thrilling, and the Panthers are going to be formidable opponents for the Broncos. Children in the countries where we work also love playing games, especially football (aka soccer in the United States). Enjoy these pictures from Asia, the Americas and Africa. Goooooal!!!!

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A Hop, Skip and Jump

In August, we’ll be focusing on play — here on the blog and on ChildFund’s social media — and what it means to children’s physical, mental and social development. We asked our staff in Asia, Africa and the Americas to share pictures and quotes from children about their favorite sports, games and toys. One thing that’s striking is that some games are common to many children, regardless of age group, country and continent. As you’d expect, many of the children ChildFund works with are fans of soccer, but you’ll also see them playing with marbles or jumping rope. Many make their own toys out of materials found around their homes and communities. It takes a lot to keep children from playing, even when they don’t have toy stores around the corner.

Below is a slideshow of photos from Brazil, Ecuador and Ethiopia, all of girls jumping rope, a skill that requires good balance, stamina and high energy. Stay tuned throughout this month for more play!


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Soccer Fever Strikes

Brasil soccer

A photo taken by Marlon, a boy enrolled in ChildFund Brasil’s Photovoice program, shows neighborhood boys playing soccer. Are you watching the World Cup games from Rio de Janeiro?

Recognizing the Importance of Play in Children’s Lives

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

Long before recorded history, children played. From the beginning, their play took three outward forms: conflict, imitation and chance. Play as conflict appears in games of skill and competitive sports. We associate imitation with cooperative games, such as role playing and creative or imaginative play. Games of chance — most familiar to us in cards and dice — often involve sticks, stones, shells, beads, or bones in developing countries.   

jumping rope

In Vietnam, a girl jumps rope.

We also know now that play is critical to children’s development, and many who live in developing countries do not have the time and opportunity to play with their peers, to lay down their worries for a moment and just be children.

Today is Universal Children’s Day, an event that aims for greater understanding of and among children of all nations. Its roots are in a 1954 United Nations conference when officials recommended that each country set aside a day for children. Nov. 20 has special meaning as the date on which the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and, 30 years later, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Educators describe play as the young child’s work. It’s more than self-expression. Unstructured play teaches children about the natural world, themselves and society. Through play, children develop motor and cognitive skills, learn cultural values and mature in emotional intelligence. Strategic thinking, pattern matching, problem solving, math mastery, negotiation, sensitivity to others and conflict resolution are just the beginning of play’s hidden benefits.

Kenya game

Children in Kenya play a jumping game.

If child’s play is the foundation of our intellectual, social, physical and emotional development, then play is education. And if education is human development, then development truly begins when each young child plays.

Last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched Global Education First (GEFI), a new initiative raising the political profile of education. Its premise is that education leads to gender equality, economic opportunity, health and environmental sustainability. GEFI aims to put every child in school, provide them all with quality education and, ultimately, transform children into global citizens.

ChildFund also seeks to improve educational opportunities and learning environments in every community where we work.

Having taught both here in the United States and in Africa, I know there’s more to education than schools, equipment, materials and instructors, essential as they are. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child reminds us: “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation.”

circle game

In Honduras, a circle game.

Play is universal; it comes naturally. Kids everywhere turn anything into a game. Think of hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, string games, Simon Says, clapping rhymes, rope skipping and hopscotch. You find them in Virginia, Eastern Europe, Southern Asia, Latin America and West Africa. In ChildFund International’s lobby, we have toys created by children in the countries we serve, playthings that demonstrate resourcefulness and creativity.

In developing countries, children play with scrap materials. A stick turns a wheel rim into a perpetual motion machine. Gathering up discarded plastic shopping bags, village boys weave them into soccer balls. Empty aluminum cans and bottle caps morph into toy animals or race cars. In a girl’s hands, a bit of cloth, some string and a corn husk become a doll.

Here in the United States, we’re blessed with leisure and money to spend on play dates, soccer lessons and computer games. But when play becomes our babysitter, we tend to forget its true value in children’s lives.

Kristina, a tutor at an Early Childhood Development center in Indonesia, often makes toys from available resources, including recycled materials, that teach her children about shapes and numbers. “With these resources, they get to play with a range of different educational toys, and we know that they are learning while enjoying being a child,” she says. “I wish I had these when I was a child.”

Children Create Toys from Trash

by Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications

’Tis the season for thinking about toys.

But what if there is no toy store? What if there is no money for toys?

In developing countries, children have shown an amazing amount of creativity when it comes to fashioning toys for play. Some children have taken broken flip-flops, scrap plastic bags, twigs and string and made a toy sailboat.

Other children have created soccer balls using discarded plastic bags and heavy twine. They’ve made kites using paper, string and bamboo.

Many of these innovative toys are on view as part of ChildFund’s traveling exhibit, The Power to Play: From Trash to Treasure. This holiday the exhibit is on display at the Idaho State Historical Museum through Feb. 5, 2011.

“The Idaho Historical Museum acts as a resource for Idaho history as well as a cultural center to expose Idaho citizens to the people of the world,” says Kurt Zwolfer, education specialist for the museum. “By viewing the creativity and resourcefulness exhibited by the children who made these toys, we hope our visitors will have a better understanding of the universal language of play.”

ChildFund's Anne Lynam Goddard (left) meets with museum staff.

“It’s the perfect holiday display,” says Anne Schorzman, events coordinator for the museum. “We think it will inspire many when they come to see the exhibit.”

In addition to the collection of toys, the museum also created interactive pieces, ideal for children visiting the museum. Children can bowl, make beaded snakes and play instruments from everyday items.

ChildFund International has long recognized play as essential to childhood development. Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO says, “We are sharing this toy collection as a visible demonstration of how the power to play helps children thrive and become leaders of enduring change in their communities and the world.”

The toy collection has traveled across the United States with stops at museums and venues in Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Denver and New York.

Children’s Toys Take the Spotlight at ChildFund Event

by Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

ChildFund's Power to Play exhibit at New World Stages runs through Sept. 6.

Toys made by children from around the world took center stage last night in New York City.

ChildFund’s toy exhibit “The Power to Play” opened last night at New World Stages, 340 West 50th St.

Time Out New York and NTDTV covered the opening reception. Donors from the New York area previewed the toys before the exhibit officially opened to the public.

Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund, told the audience, “Every show has a star, and the real stars tonight are the children who made the toys.

“The toys they made offer dramatic proof that – through it all – children can retain their sense of wonder, their desire to play, their indomitable spirit, and their ability to imagine and create…if they are given the support they need,” she continued.

Many of the toys on display tell compelling stories of the particular social, economic or political conditions present in the children’s home countries, while others reflect similarities across regions in type of play and crafting technique. Some children use twigs, plastic bags and string to make kites, cut open soda cans to fashion toy cars and bind dried banana leaves to bring dolls to life.

Among the guests at the opening reception was Dayton Carr, a long-time ChildFund supporter who sponsors two children and has funded a playground in Liberia and a program for disabled children in Belarus.

Mick Foley and his wife Collette attended. Mick, a former wrestler and now author and philanthropist, has funded eight schools in Sierra Leone and community centers in the Philippines and Mexico. He is currently funding a program to help former girl soldiers in Sierra Leone. He sponsors seven children.

ChildFund’s former board chairman Bill Leahey and his wife Chris also were in attendance. They sponsor four children and have funded a library in Ethiopia.

Irene Sanz and Maureen Massey admire the exhibit.

Long-time supporter Irene Sanz and ChildFund board member Maureen Massey and her husband Ivor spent some time reminiscing about their recent ChildFund study tour to Kenya.

Integrated Media Solutions, which sponsors 60 children, hosted the evening’s reception.

As part of the reception, guests were asked to contribute to the building of playgrounds in Afghanistan. An anonymous gift of $10,000 and several additional donations will be used to equip the playgrounds.

The toy exhibit continues through Sept. 6. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

With previous stops in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston and Atlanta, the toy collection will next head to Idaho in October.

Denver Sponsors Share Their ChildFund Stories

by Stephanie Phillips, ChildFund special assistant

It’s always inspiring to hear from ChildFund’s long-term supporters. At ChildFund’s Power to Play toy exhibit at the Denver Press Club, we were reminded once again of the rewards of child sponsorship.

Long-time sponsor Jean O'Toole

Long-time donor Jean O’Toole from Fort Collins, Colo., has sponsored 19 children through ChildFund for more than 40 years. She summed up what she thought being a supporter was all about: “I am everybody who sponsors a child. I am a small brick in the bottom row of the foundation of ChildFund International. Without the bottom row you couldn’t have the top of the pyramid,” O’Toole said.

She also shared photo albums and scrapbooks from her years of sponsoring children around the world. O’Toole has kept every letter and picture she has received from her sponsored children—including the original ad that sparked her interest in the organization 40 years ago.

Eric Seversen, another long-time sponsor from Boulder, performed his song, “Power to Play,” which he wrote to complement ChildFund’s Power to Play video featuring children constructing toys for the exhibit.

Eric Seversen performs.

Seversen’s song is written as if though the eyes of the children who made the toys: All I have known is poverty and fear, but I could be a pilot, or a teacher or engineer! The power to play…

As Seversen’s song ended, all eyes glanced over at the toys on the exhibit tables. Everyone knew that the children who had made the toys face the hardship of poverty every day. Children used their resilience and creativity to make toys to entertain themselves, develop their skills and persevere through life.

The Power of Play exhibit acknowledges children’s struggle and celebrates their achievements.

ChildFund’s Power to Play Exhibit Visits Denver

by Stephanie Phillips, ChildFund special assistant

The dim evening light filters through the windows of the Denver Press Club spotlighting the tables of toys. These aren’t ordinary toys found in local toy shops—these are unique toys constructed of recycled materials, made by the hands of children from around the world.

Hand-made toys reflect children's innovation.

ChildFund International’s traveling toy exhibit, the Power to Play, made a stop at the Denver press club last week. The exhibit was not only an opportunity for donors in the Denver area to view the toys but also to gather and celebrate their commitment to ChildFund. Many of the donors attending the reception have been sponsoring children for more than 30 years.

As attendees walked around the room, they marveled not only at the ingenuity and creativity the children used to craft the toys but also at the materials they used. All of the toys in the Power to Play exhibit are made from materials people throw away on a daily basis—plastic bags, tin cans, scrap wood and empty containers.

“We want as many people as possible to see this exhibit, because it is not an ordinary exhibit—it is extraordinary because kids have made these toys with their own hands. I call them the original environmentalists,” said ChildFund International President and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard, who greeted donors at the event.

Donors meet with Anne Lynam Goddard.

Athena Boulgarides, Regional Development Officer for ChildFund, explained how play helps children’s development. “Play is an astonishing gift that children give themselves,” she said. “Through play they solve problems and test new ideas. Play is the key to the future of their psychosocial development, emotional development—and honoring that is a gift.”

Children’s ‘Power to Play’ Inspires Songwriter

by Eric Severson

Eric Severson is the author and performer of the song “The Power to Play,” which he wrote to accompany ChildFund’s video and innovative program of the same name.

I have been donating to ChildFund International since I was in college, which is long enough to have seen several of my sponsored children grow up and be replaced with a new set of wonderful and deserving kids.

Through the years, I’ve always been extremely impressed by ChildFund’s sincerity, passion and highly efficient operation. In an age when humanitarian resources too often have been misused, ChildFund has always kept its fundraising and administrative costs extremely low, allowing the children to receive a maximum amount of help. I know it also makes a huge difference to these children to have a real human being providing their support – with a name and face they know – not just a nameless, faceless “donor” in the background.

I am now absolutely thrilled to be able to contribute another side of me – my songwriting and music – to help this wonderful cause. Though most of my songs have focused on humanitarian subjects, it was only this year that I thought to use these efforts directly to benefit ChildFund. What a wonderful insight that was!

Earlier this year, I had written a song called “Children of the World,” which I officially dedicated to ChildFund International. As the words of the song’s chorus indicate, it was all about our tendency toward apathy and indecision in responding to charitable causes:

Children of the world, when will we see
That you are more than just a photograph, or ads on our TV?
Children of the world, will we find a way?
Tomorrow may not come for you, you need our help today.

My favorite part of the song, however, is the “bridge” section, which I see as the essence of what ChildFund International does so well in fostering personal relationships between donors and their sponsored children:

If I could only see these kids, as if they all were my own kids,
I would not hesitate to right this wrong.
I’d reach out to them with my all, hug them tightly close to me,
And wonder why I waited for so long.

This song got the attention of Athena Boulgarides, my regional ChildFund development officer, and we began to talk about what else I might do to help in a more central and impactful way. When Athena explained the “Power to Play” program – and I watched the video of kids building toys – I was absolutely awestruck by the power of this vision and by its obvious results on the children. With encouragement from Athena, I decided to take on the project of writing the music to go along with this powerful video.

The project presented two major challenges. First, though I wanted the music to be hopeful and inspiring – not sad – I didn’t want to gloss over the heartbreaking existence these kids were coming from. It had to be music that made you smile and feel good – but while tears were falling from your eyes at the same time. The music went through a number of iterations before I finally found something that I liked – and there were one or two points in the process where I became so discouraged I wondered if I’d ever find that delicate and elusive balance of emotions.

Second, since the video was not made with my music in mind, I had to work hard to match the lyrics and themes in the song as closely as I could to the actual timing of the video. For this purpose I made a chart of the exact timings of each scene and transition in the video, and wrote the words and music at each point to align as closely as I could with what was on the screen. Because songs need to have predictable structure of verses and choruses and so forth, this was an inexact exercise at best – but with a bit of poetic license, I was able to come closer than I originally thought I could.

I hope the result speaks for itself, and that I have managed to produce something that will make a big difference to ChildFund and its ability to capture the hearts and imaginations of potential donors and sponsors. This is such an amazing and important program, and I feel truly blessed to be a part of it.

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