Play is international, only the games and faces are different.

Wherever there are children, there are children’s games. Play is natural for children— it is fun, it develops muscle, and it also builds community. By playing, kids learn about themselves, about their friends, about their society, and sometimes about the wider world.

You might see the world as a vast network of neighborhoods, each one a country or culture. Over every backyard fence there are children playing games, all inspired by a love of running, a love of throwing, a love of being together, being in action. In this network of backyards and neighborhoods, some of the fences are too high to see over. There are oceans in the way, barriers of language, forests of misunderstanding. Children from one neighborhood may not know how much they resemble the kids in another. Children growing in the United States may not see their kinship with children in South Africa or China. They may never know unless someone shows them that children everywhere else are children “just like you.”

Just Like You is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit whose after-school programs forge global understanding through play. Its mission is to promote international awareness among children by using sport, so the children may grow to be better global citizens.

Once a week, Just Like You presents an after-school program focused on a selected country. During the first half hour the children are taught about the country’s history, language and culture, including memorable facts and songs. After that they are treated to an hour of games from that country. First they learn, then they play. And they play and play. According to Jerry Darko of Just Like You, the students never want to go home, “we don't end up leaving for another hour or so.” It’s a genuine chance for children in Los Angeles to learn the games that children in other global neighborhoods play, and to discover that those different games make children around the world so alike. When we know we are alike we can see each other as neighbors, not strangers.

Just Like You was formed to address the lack of a strong international curriculum in modern elementary schools. The founders believe that international understanding and cultural sensitivity are becoming ever more important. If we teach our children about children in faraway places we will increase understanding, strengthen global networks and promote peace. And for children, fun is the best way to learn.

Just Like You’s programs have proved popular among a tremendous variety of students, including children who are not so classroom-oriented. The learning has been phenomenal. Darko says, “I remember realizing how powerful the work that we're doing is when I walked into one of the schools one afternoon and the kids ran up to me screaming ‘Dumela, dumela’ which means ‘Hello’ in Setswana, the main language spoken in Botswana. To think that a seven year old in an underserved community is now intimately connected with the culture of someone living thousands and thousands of miles away when just a week ago they had never heard of the country—it's incredible!”

Darko believes that children are getting the message of connection to youth in other places, if sometimes in a childlike way. He relates: “We did this exercise with the kids where we asked them to draw and color a map of the world. The focus was teaching them all the different continents and the distinction between continent, country, city and state. One girl came up to me and showed me her map and I asked ‘Jackie, why are all your continents touching?’ And she said, ‘But you said we were all connected!’”

Just Like You

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