Calm in the Midst of Conflict: A New Club Sparks Hope at a Refugee Camp

Legend has it that there once was a king who announced an art contest. He invited all of the artists to create a painting about peace and the winner would win a prize. Of all paintings created, the king liked two the best and had to decide the winner. The first painting showed a beautiful and calm lake surrounded by mountains, with white clouds mirrored in the lake. Everyone who saw the painting immediately thought of peace. The second painting was different. It also showed mountains, but they were dark and threatening. A storm was raving and you could see lightning striking and raindrops falling. You could almost see the thunder. No one understood how this painting was supposed to be about peace. However, the king saw a little bush in the corner of the painting. On this little bush there was a mother bird, sitting in her nest. She sat in the midst of the worst storm—in peace.

The second painting won the contest.

The king said, “Real peace brings hope, and it means to stay calm and peaceful in your heart, even in the most difficult circumstances and biggest challenges.”*

Like the bird sitting in her nest, Play for Peace is the calm in the midst of the storm. Our clubs around the world work in areas experiencing conflict, using the power of cooperative play to bring tranquility and peace to children and youth living with storms of their own: discrimination, violence, lack of basic necessities, and more. One example of this is Play for Peace in the Netherlands, which despite a recent setback, is now thriving again.

In October 2018, the refugee camp in Musselkanaal, Netherlands, closed its doors after 25 years, despite community protest. All remaining inhabitants of the refugee camp were relocated, including most of the young people who formed the Play for Peace club there.

Roel, the club’s mentor, was transferred to Ter Apel, another refugee camp nearby, and was determined to support a new Play for Peace program there. Ter Apel is one of two camps in Holland, the northern province of the Netherlands, where refugees are being sent after entering the country. Here they apply for asylum and await their trial and the decision as to whether or not they are allowed to stay. Many refugees stay for a short while before being transferred to permanent camps; others stay for months or even years awaiting a decision. Most have endured great dangers to come to Europe, and many have lost homes, belongings, friends, and family members in their war-torn home countries.

In February 2019, Play for Peace youth leader Rayan Salam, who started the club in Musselkanaal, came to Ter Apel to gather the youth there and introduce them to the idea of Play for Peace. A week later, regional coordinator for Europe and Play for Peace certified trainer Katrin Hünemörder visited the camp and conducted a Play for Peace training for 35 youth—mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Later that day, the group marched through the camp with posters and banners, gathering children for a play session. For that day only, the group was granted permission to march through a normally closed gate to the other side of the camp, where refugees whose asylum applications were rejected are waiting to return to their home countries. It was a very emotional moment when the gate was opened and children from the other side were allowed to join the group to play together during the first practice peace session at the Ter Apel refugee camp.

The day went by quickly, and the youth were excited after the experience of leading cooperative games for the children at the camp. They soon committed to meeting every Saturday for more training and play sessions.

With the support of Roel and Rayan, the group has been meeting regularly—at least once a week—learning new games, offering play sessions, and making Play for Peace a steady part of the Ter Apel refugee camp. While they are still overcoming obstacles and the storm may still be present, they are working together to create peace.

*Author unknown

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  • Oct 17, 2018, 12:00 AM

    In part three of this three-part series, Play for Peace regional coordinator Katrin Hünemörder visits our club at a refugee camp in Musselkanaal, Netherlands. Although recently closed, the camp was an integration success story. Meet some of the refugees who've been impacted by Play for Peace and learn how they are now impacting others.

  • Oct 15, 2018, 12:00 AM

    In part two of this three-part series, Play for Peace regional coordinator Katrin Hünemörder visits our club at a refugee camp in Musselkanaal, Netherlands. Although recently closed, the camp was an integration success story. Part two shows the compassion and leadership of the youth and staff at the camp.

  • Oct 10, 2018, 12:00 AM

    In part one of a three-part series, Play for Peace regional coordinator Katrin Hünemörder visits our club at a refugee camp in Musselkanaal, Netherlands. Although recently closed, the camp was an integration success story. Part one introduces children, parents, and families of Musselkanaal experiencing Play for Peace.