On our way from Pristina to Novi Sad we had the opportunity to conduct a workshop at a peace park in the Kosovo border town of Pudojevo. A British group called Manchester Aid to Kosovo has been running a peace camp there for the last two years and asked us to provide some instruction in the types of games we do that could be applicable to the peace camp participants. We spent more time planning these three hours than we’ve ever spent planning a session, and I think that’s a reflection of both our excitement to engage with this group and the large amount of games that can be used to promote themes around peace.
We ultimately decided to split the ~30 participants into three groups that would rotate among us for activities followed by discussion. Will, Libby, and I planned our station around the theme of inclusion; Scott, Danijel, and Martha planned for teamwork and cooperation; and Hannah, Dani, and Siôn planned games related to verbal and non-verbal communication.
I was particularly excited to have inclusion as our theme. Will, Libby, and I spent a long time brainstorming ideas for games – there are many different types of groups to consider within inclusion (eg, race, physical ability, religion, etc), and we had to narrow down our long list of ideas to what we could play within half an hour. We decided to make the games as close as possible to the situation in Kosovo between the Kosovars and Serbs so that it was most obviously relevant.
We ended up with groups of about 18 teenagers and MAK volunteers. For our first activity, we divided the group into three teams and gave each a different color bib. While Will and Libby briefed the blue and green teams about how much they love to toss a ball to each other, I explained to the red team that they want to play but are disgusted by the idea of touching a ball after it has touched someone else’s hands. As a result, if someone throws the ball to them using their hands, they have to swat the ball away.
Once we got everyone into a large circle, it quickly became apparent to the blue and green teams that the people on the red team were “rude” and “unfriendly”. For a while they avoided passing us the ball; then Will explained that we had to find some way to play together. When the ball rolled behind me, I picked it up between my arms and demonstrated how to pass it to someone else on the red team. It took a while for the blues and greens to work out that we have to receive the ball that way, but eventually they learned how to play with us and had fun doing so.
Next up, we stayed in our teams but switched over to a set of relays. This time the red team had it easy – we got to be normal. The blue team learned that they only had use of one foot, so they had to hop; the green team had four feet and had to crawl. The first relay was basic: get to a cone about 20 meters away and come back. The red team obviously beat the others by a considerable amount, and Will played this up by having us parade in front of them for a few seconds. The next relay involved dribbling a football to the cone and back; the reds should have retained the advantage but somehow came in second to the blue team in both sessions! Finally, we mixed up the teams so that there were equal numbers of colors on each. This equalization made it a real race, and the results were very close.
We ended up having less time than anticipated, but our final activity was supposed to be a version of Toxic Swamp, which is an initiative exercise in which teams are given a very small amount of material (a piece of rope or a small parachute) and told that they had to get everyone from point A to point B using only that. It’s impossible to do unless they realize that by combining material among teams they will have enough to make a bridge through the “swamp”. Our plan for this session was to keep the groups the same from the relay (greens on all fours, etc) and do the same thing using hula hoops as the material. We had planned a few variations in which each group would had the chance to be both the most or least advantaged. For instance, those walking on all fours take up the most space and are thus a disadvantage in a game that requires limited space, but a modification in which no one can use their hands to touch the hula hoops would place those people at the advantage as they have four “feet”, including two that happen to look like hands.
We were sorry not to get to Toxic Swamp, but it was clear from our discussions with the participants that they got a lot from the first two activities. They were able to articulate the lessons we’d hoped for and the general idea that it is possible to work together and have fun regardless of what you look like or what language you speak.
The other groups had similar success, and we left wishing we could have stayed for a few days. That type of situation is perfect for leaving the kind of lasting and self-sustaining impact that is so important to us in World at Play. Hopefully, future expeditions to Kosovo will be able to partner with MAK and the Pudojevo community again! It was a great chance for us to how how sport and games can be used as legitimate instructional tools for a host of values and life skills.