Editor’s note: This post first appeared on Little Ripples’ blog.

In the ‘development’ world, we always hail that women need to play more substantial roles in the decision-making process at all levels of society. Decisions that affect their individual rights, as well as those of their community and country. Of course I strongly agree with this, but today I ask, do women need to play, period? After this morning’s training session at Little Ripples, I would argue Yes.

We arrived at the Little Ripples school for our 3rd day of teacher training to find the teachers hanging out with about 20 Little Ripples students in the outdoor area. Since the children were still around, we decided to postpone the training for an hour so that we could play games with the teachers and the children. At first it was just a spontaneous, fun idea, but this hour plus of play proved to be a tool not only in showing the teachers the kinds of games they can do with the Little Ripples children, but a rare opportunity for the women to let loose and have some fun.

The play time included group stretching, soccer, and relay races. It all sounds really simple to you and me, but for the women and the children, it was apparent these games were new and exciting. One moment the teachers were serious, waiting for instruction, and the next they were laughing, competing, cheering each other on, running and trying to win the race. It was so incredible to see them all come alive. I hadn’t seen so many of them smiling at once, exuding so much energy, excitement and confidence! A drastic change from their composed, conservative selves.

Not only were the women having a blast playing, but when we had the children follow their lead, and play the same games and do the same races, we got to see the kids running and racing with the same smiles on their faces. Though what was perhaps the best part for me was that the teachers were in turn enthusiastically encouraging and supporting the children in the games. It had become a ripple effect. They had become leaders.

Later, when we asked the women what they thought about the games, Haleyma Mohamed, pictured above in orange, quietly turned to me and said in English, “The games make me happy”.

Playing organized games and sports in a safe space with their peers is not an option these women grow up with. They instead are busy tending to the children, farming, cooking and doing household chores. But this morning I saw first hand how sports and simple games can be used as a tool for joy and social empowerment of women.

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