Playing for Peace

Peacebuilding through Collaborative Games: Learning to Lead Play for Peace Activities to Inspire a New Generation of Peacemakers in Guatemala

March 31, 2019


The Conflict and Development Foundation has recently completed the Play for Peace®, program in Guatemala. CDF introduced gardening programs and outdoor play to support the social-emotional well being of kids, aiming to improve relationship skills and reduce stress, anger and aggressive behaviors. During the last training session, a group of Texas A&M University students gained skills to facilitate collaborative games in Mayan communities. Games are a tool to teach about compassion, teamwork, and inclusion, and to discuss important topics such as gang recruitment in their communities.   


Fun. Joy. Inclusion. Respect. Compassion.

For several years, small farming communities in the central Guatemalan highlands have served as our playground, allowing us to use the Play for Peace methodology to engage in peace education programs for indigenous Mayan kids. The country is now at peace, and young kids might not know about the horrors experienced by their grandparents during three decades of civil war that devastated the country’s indigenous Mayan communities. However, in this post-conflict era, new forms of conflict permeate into small villages as small kids may become targets for gang recruitment. The Conflict and Development Foundation saw the need for imparting peace education programs at an early age and discussing that sensitive topic with kids in a non-threatening environment.   

Finding ways to lessen the effects of living in poverty conditions and unsafe villages has been a motivation for CDF’s Program Manager Johanna Roman to initiate programs for small children and youth in impoverished villages. She had been working with Guatemalan kids for several years introducing and scaling up the Junior Master Gardener® program developed at Texas A&M. After delivering a series of garden education programs for Mayan kids, she witnessed how the garden became a safe place for little ones to talk about their struggles and find peace.

Building upon that program, CDF joined forces with Play for Peace, a thriving global learning community working to create peace by training and supporting generations of peace builders. Using their methodology, CDF recently completed the last set of Play for Peace sessions with help from 20 Texas A&M University students.

After completing a short training session delivered by Play for Peace trainer Andrés Arias, Texas A&M students spent five days leading Play for Peace activities for kids from pre-kindergarden to 6th grade.  They visited villages and offered these peace sessions in schools and churches. Texas A&M students engaged in joyful interactions with Mayan kids and learned about their culture and way of life. Sadly, they also witnessed bullying as a form of aggression within older kids. They discussed ways of coping with this form of violence and how to interrupt it when happening and reporting it to school officials.    

During the train-the-trainer session for Texas A&M students, Play for Peace Executive Director Sarah Gough offered an introduction about the organization. She explained their belief that youth-led cooperative play has the power to bring together people from different nationalities, religions, and backgrounds to find common ground, build friendships, and create a more peaceful world. Sarah’s presentation was followed by Arias’ interactive workshop. This motivated and experienced Play for Peace trainer demonstrated effective strategies for working with Mayan kids and offered valuable tips to Texas A&M students. They also had a practice session with 15 kids from different villages, who eagerly participated in collaborative games. 

One of the most important activities happened when Andrés, through structured inquiry, was able to pose some thought-provoking questions for youth about gang involvement, life in their village and why peace is important. Although shy, one of the teenagers present was able to articulate his struggles, goals and aspirations. During games, Texas A&M students witnessed how play can be used as a tool to teach respect, compassion, and perhaps help break the cycle of violence. Games were based on inclusion and participation from everyone; this generated communication, trust, and respect.

As a follow-up to this program, CDF was able to identify a small group of teenagers that are interested in completing a training program to become Play for Peace Leaders in their communities.  In addition, CDF is exploring an opportunity to combine the Play for Peace program with the Junior Master Gardener program to be offered in several elementary schools in Mexico.

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