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Vol 39  No 12
Apr. 5, 2007


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The power of play

Grad reaches out and touches the lives of African villagers
by Dawn Roche

As a young girl, the vivid National Geographic photographs of people leading lives and facing hardships that were vastly unlike her own experiences struck a note with alumna Anne-Marie Bourgeois. It was then she vowed to make a difference in the global community.


Alumna Anne-Marie Bourgeois, centre, in pink headscarf, with other Right to Play coaches and master trainers at Lugufu refugee camp.

The youngest of six children, Ms. Bourgeois was born in Kippens, Newfoundland, in 1981. Athletic from the start, she played soccer, basketball, and volleyball as well as swam, ran, and skied.

“I am privileged to have grown up healthy and actively involved in many sports,” said Ms. Bourgeois. “I would not be the person I am today without this involvement. The values of respect, humility, integrity, co-operation, leadership, communication and perseverance were fostered under the guidance and support of coaches and peers. I wished to contribute to the next generation of youth through similar sports initiatives.”

In 1999, Ms. Bourgeois took her first steps toward fulfilling her goal to help others. She moved to St. John’s and enrolled at Memorial University, earning her bachelor of kinesiology (co-operative with honours) in 2003.

During her time at Memorial, She learned of Right to Play, an international non-governmental organization with a mandate to create a healthier and safer world for children through the power of sport and play. The more Ms. Bourgeois learned of this program, the more motivated she was to get involved. She could combine her athletic background with her love of travel and desire to meet and work with people from around the world. It was a perfect fit and, with degree in hand, Ms. Bourgeois was ready for the challenge.

She applied for a one-year volunteer position with Right to Play (RTP) and, in 2004, was selected as project co-ordinator for a program in Kigoma, Tanzania. After spending the summer with her family in Kippens, Ms. Bourgeois arrived at the airport excited and anxious about her endeavour. She checked her two bags – filled to brimming – and took to the air for a journey of several days that saw her land and depart in four continents, eventually arriving in south east Africa.

Based in a small Tanzanian town, Ms. Bourgeois commuted to six remote camps where she worked with almost 250,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees and trained refugee youth and adults as coaches. This resulted in the emergence of local coaches who continue to train children in sport and play programs with very limited involvement from international volunteers – thereby achieving RTP’s ultimate goal of sustainable development.

She has witnessed the smiles on the faces of the children and coaches, observing first-hand the positive powers of sport and play. RTP enables children in the refugee camps to forget – for a short time – some of the hardships and traumas they have faced before they fled their home countries; the difficulties of life in a refugee camp; the sadness they feel for lost family members; and the worries they face for their futures. “Despite all these troubles,” said Ms. Bourgeois, “these people are happy, smiling, fun-loving, vibrant, and welcoming.”

Children celebrating World Peace Day in Lugufu refugee camp; “amani” means “peace” in Kiswahili language.

Ms. Bourgeois considers her two years – she applied for an extension after her first year – in Tanzania as the most challenging and meaningful period in her life to date, firmly fuelling her desire to work in the field of international development. She starts her master’s of arts in human security and peacebuilding in May 2007 at Royal Roads University in British Columbia.

“It has been a great honour to be part of such programs in areas of the world where children are victims of war, poverty, disease, loss, and countless other horrors,” she said. I learned more than I was able to teach and more about my own personal strengths and weaknesses. The sheer spirit and tenacity of the refugee and Tanzanian populations both inspired and humbled me. I am eager to contribute once again to the global community.”

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