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Meet Ladan, a female Coach in Kenya who is leveling the field

Meet Ladan, a female Coach in Kenya who is leveling the field

Inside Dadaab Refugee Camps where insecurity, gender inequality, poor living conditions, and scorching heat dictate the lives of its residents, volunteer Right To Play Coaches are making a difference in the lives of hundreds of children.

One Right To Play Coach, Ladan Abdi Omar, shares her story...

In 1991, when the war broke out in Somalia, people attacked our home leaving my elder sister, brother and aunty dead. I came to the Dadaab camps with my parents and three remaining brothers when I was only one year's old.

I became involved with Right To Play in May 201 2 after they advertised for youth to volunteer as Coaches. After our first training session, the Coaches decided to address the issue of Inclusion because they had noted segregation as one of the biggest challenges children are facing in the camps. Many groups— children with disabilities, girls, and children from minority clans of the Somali and minority nationalities in the camps from Sudan, Ethiopia, and Congo—are socially excluded.When I first began conducting play activities for children, parents were very skeptical. Some were suspicious that the program was going to spoil their children by teaching them to avoid work at home and play all day, while others thought it was a program to "westernize" their children and culture. Women who saw me carrying sports equipment called me "mad" because females are not allowed to play in public. To make matters worse, gender inequality dictates that only men can be Coaches. There were other women who had trained to become Coaches too, but frequent mockery from the community forced them to quit.

It was not easy to be a female Coach in the camp. Here, girls have very limited opportunities and are often busy with household chores or are married off at an early age to older men. Also, our cultural decrees that boys or men are not supposed to train girls and vice versa. Girls are supposed to play in isolation where the men cannot see us. Still, the play activities I lead have attracted more boys than girls even though I am a female Coach. I never turn them away and their parents have not protested. I conduct games with all children—boys, girls, children with disabilities— and they all play together and exchange ideas without breaking our cultural and religious practices. The play equipment is limited, but the children have learned to share the little we have.

Though there were many misconceptions about the program when we started, and I had to go from house-to-house to ask parents to allow their children to come and play, today the children's parents seek me out so their children can play. I am making a difference. I am supporting my community and the children in it. Many of the children I deal with are vulnerable orphans or were born out of wed lock. Each day that I lead children in play, their day is a little bit better than it was before, and knowing they are happy makes me feel proud of my work.