Large-scale global initiatives can be challenging to interpret on a local level, especially when they involve goals for children and education.
Deport-es para Compartir (Sports to Share) seeks to render the UN Millennium Goals for Mexican schoolchildren through physical activities to build students’ capacities for local action. Below, Dowser talks with General Director Dina Buchbinder about how games can translate goals, and about how a larger network for youth programs has inspired her local work.
Dowser: How did your background lead you to developing programs for children?
Ms. Buchbinder: I worked in various camps growing up and always had a passion for children. I studied international relations and realized that I was not interested in an exclusively government position.
In 2007 I was one of 11 delegates to a program organized by the government of Japan called "Ship for World Youth," which aims to establish networks and activities for youth leaders across the world. There I met a Canadian woman named Dara Parker who was working on a program called "Sport in a Box," which introduces global themes through physical activities. I had always been a hyperactive girl involved in many sports and I was really excited by the opportunity to link themes this way.
How did you translate this idea to a Mexican context?
When I got back to Mexico I asked a fellow delegate if he would start a project like "Sport in a Box" with me and try it out for a year. We worked together to adapt and "tropicalize" the idea to Mexico and changed the games to be more identified with Mexico. We piloted one semester and we were amazed with the results.
How do you translate the UN’s broad goals into local ones?
The broad goal of the program is to invite children to be local change-makers, and to this end we emphasize five main values in all of our games – teamwork, fair play, respect, tolerance, and gender equality. We have a huge obesity problem in Mexico, so we hope to also teach physical activity through these games. We train teachers to implement our activities in school and in indigenous shelters for underdeveloped municipalities so that a large diversity of students can get access to the program. We started in 2007 and ever since 80 percent of the students we work with are indigenous.
How do you help students to internalize these change-making goals?
The whole program is through games so that the kids are having fun while, say, realizing why it is important for them to treat others with respect. After each game – and at various points throughout the curriculum – students reflect on how they felt and how the games relate back to their own realities and personal values.
Where and how did you start the program? Was it adopted quickly by schools?
Our first year we ran semester-long programs and piloted them with zero pesos in our pockets. We started in a shelter in Chihuahua, and just started calling shelters and asking if we could come. We also piloted in two private schools in Mexico City, including Colegio Ciudad de México, the one I’d attended. As we expand it’s been very important to us to maintain a diversity of public and private schools as well as indigenous shelters.
It’s very difficult to add things to teachers’ jobs because they already have so much to get through, but with this program they seem to fall in love with it on their own. Teachers have said that just our three-day training has changed their whole perspective on teaching – made it more human, more motivating. To date we have had more than 30,000 participants.
How did you get connected and funded to work in schools?
We work with the Mexican Ministry of Social Development and the agencies that run indigenous shelters. When I graduated from university the minister of social development was making the ceremony, and I went directly to him and told him about the project idea. I’d been very active in organizing things in university, and it was good timing to connect with the ministry with that behind me.
What are the biggest challenges for the program?
There’s always the problem of human resources – we need talented and committed people but we can’t pay much just yet. I work really hard to maintain a lasting and skilled team. So many schools in the country want this program, and we don’t have enough resources to deliver it to all of them.
Funding can be a challenge, too. We are funded by various Mexican ministries, a little private support, and a few other partners. Lastly, the NGO community in Mexico can be touch-and-go. Everyone has good intentions but we need people with skills. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to feel part of a larger community of people doing similar work in the [United] States and internationally, most recently through Iniciativa Mexico.
How do you evaluate the results of the program?
We measure qualitative results in terms of how much students’ self-perception changes and to what extent they begin to see themselves as change-makers with social capital. We measure quantitative results in three areas – students’ understanding of the Millennium Goals, how much they’ve adopted healthy lifestyles, and how much local community development is being enhanced through the program.
Why do you think communities are so interested in adopting your program?
From the very beginning participating teachers told us in evaluations that they saw a huge change in children’s’ attitudes, and parents reported that students were more cooperative and helpful at home. We always receive amazingly positive evaluations and have more applications for the program than we can handle.
We’re looking to expand within the next five years to more area of Latin America and ideally to migrant communities in the US. Alliances through Ashoka, the UN Network, and the International Youth Foundation make this seem eventually possible!
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