Van Koeverden and Hughes join forces to help Malian youth
Now, the Canadian Olympic greats are combining their talents and drive for a new initiative off the field of play but all about the Right To Play.
Van Koeverden and Hughes are working on launching the Malian Youth Initiative in Mali, which they see as the next step for Right To Play, whose programming in the most disadvantaged communities in the world includes conflict resolution and HIV-AIDS education and many other aspects mixed in with the fun and games.
The youth initiative would be aimed at teenagers and van Koeverden and Hughes are teaming up to help raise the $200,000 or so that will be needed for the project. They just came back from a trip to Mali with Right To Play.
“There's got to be a next step,” said van Koeverden. “We've got to make sure these kids go to school or get a job. There's like an 80 per cent illiteracy rate in Mali so it's a great place to start this youth initiative that basically provides opportunities for education and caters to specific communities and what their problems are.
“It's like what Right To Play has always done, but this is the next step, so just beyond the red ball games, the circle stuff. It's another kind of curriculum based mostly on literacy, but also on some skills that will help give these young people a chance in modern society economically and otherwise.”
Van Koeverden said he and Hughes got to see many sides of life in Mali on their trip.
“We visited some of the most impoverished communities, very small and very rurual villages where they're pretty much self sufficient,” said the Olympic kayaking champion “They're farmers, hunters, gatherers and they raise their own animals. We also sat down with the Malian Youth Parliament, a group of children from upper class families and they've got an initiative to deal with youth issues and childs rights issues on the minds of Malians so they're being discussed and raised with the Malian government. This group of young people was very eloquent, educated, multilingual, what they're doing is very remarkable for the country."
Van Koeverden came away impressed and noticed that in one way in particular they’re ahead of North American society.
“Stuff isn't what makes them happy. We're such a consumer society in the West. We base our happiness of what we have and what we're getting next. They don't there. It's a different source of joy. They really value education in Mali. There's a great saying that I kept hearing over and over there: Power through Knowledge. They know that learning and education and the youth have to be a priority.”
Van Koeverden said the Right To Play trips motivate and inspire him to contribute back to the world of sport in a very different way.
“It helps me recognize I take a lot for granted in my sport life and that I've received a LOT from being an athlete and I'm very fortunate to be a Canadians and tohave had access to world class coaching, world class facilities, and competitive opportunities my entire life,” he said.
“If anything, I wouldn't say a trip to Africa inspires me to train harder or to be a better athlete. But the purpose of the trip is to be a more effective ambassador for Right To Play, which allows me to be more whole, I suppose.”
(Photograph of van Koeverden running the gauntlet in Mali taken by Jacquie Labatt)