The poverty experienced in Dakar is palpable. Many children are forced to beg on the streets. More than half of the population of Dakar lives below the poverty line (earn less than one Euro a day), and 52% are illiterate. In the past, Senegal had been held up as one of Africa's model democracies, but a low-level separatist war in the South has claimed hundreds of lives. Terrorist groups are also growing, and crime and corruption are becoming common.
Despite the reality of daily hardship, a Play for Peace Club is thriving on the outskirts of Dakar. It was founded late in 2013, and is already transforming the community. The leaders all have a passion to empower others and create peace in common. This shared motivation has enabled them to transcend differences in language, culture and religion.
Every Wednesday evening, Saturday evening and Sunday morning, Play for Peace welcomes over fifty children in the Senegal Play for Peace Club. Their activities consist of the games learned with Play for Peace, and the participants enjoy the games proposed to them. El Hadj Beye, one of the trainers, feels that since he went through the Play for Peace training the new games have transformed the strategy he uses to facilitate activities with the children and communities. He encourages interaction between all participants including children, adolescents, women, men, and even the more elderly who enjoy participating.
"The Play for Peace training I received changed me into a more complete trainer, better able to mentor children and youth to bring them peace, joy and hope."
~El Hadj Beye
El Hadj also runs Citoyen des Rue for Senegal. Some of the goals of the methodology that Play for Peace brings are to help empower youth, create peacemakers through the simple act of creative and non competitive play within communities in conflict. A guiding principle is: "When we laugh together it is much easier to be compassionate for one another... To create a safe and supportive place to play and be kids..." Every day in Dakar some 50,000 youth are forced to beg, many do not have the luxury to attend schools. El Hadj spends an incredible amount of time and energy working to empower this population. Play for Peace often employs little more than imagination, or props and materials easily accessible in very economically depressed regions. Play for Peace has in the past been invited by the principal of a local charter school and El Hadj and others were in turn been invited as representatives for their NGOs. They all worked and continue to work in collaboration despite language, culture, and religious differences.
Text by Bennett Barthelemy, El Hadj Beye, and Lorna Harvey