Q & A with Niamh De Loughry, Thailand’s Right To Play Country Manager

Voyageur recently had a chance to do a Q & A with Niamh De Loughry, Right To Play’s Country Manager (Thailand) about the organization’s founding, goals & mission

A.) Niamh, please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to work for Right To Play.

I come from Ireland, from a sporting family. I have a masters in “Reconciliation after violent conflict”, and trained as a teacher when I decided to travel to Asia in 2004. While I was traveling I found an opportunity to volunteer in the region, one thing led to another and soon I was working for a health NGO in the refugee camps in Thailand. I saw an opportunity with Right To Play and I couldn’t believe their areas of work – combining Sport & Play with education, building peaceful communities and transforming health practices – it was my dream organization! I applied and have now been with Right To Play for 5 years. Initially, I started as the Program Manager for a Refugee Program, after two years I became the Country Director and since the July 2018, I am in the role of Asia Director for Strategy, Partnerships, and New Business Development. I feel so lucky to be part of this organization and believe I have the dream job that allows me to strategize in one of the most exciting regions in the world for an organization whose mission drives me and an incredible group of staff every single day!

B.) Please tell us who founded the organization, when, where and why it was started.

Right To Play was founded by Johann Olav Koss, a former speed skater who has won four Olympic gold medals. Running up to his Olympic Games in 1994, Johann visited Eritrea. When he was there, he saw that the children played and had fun amid war and conflict. Then he saw one boy who was very popular among all the children and asked him why he’s so popular. The boy said he’s popular because he’s the only person who owned a long sleeve t-shirt that can be rolled up into a ball. Johann was hugely touched. He went back to compete in the Olympic Games and won for his native Norway. He donated his winnings to the establishment of Olympic Aid and many other winners did the same. Olympic Aid went on to become Right To Play in 2000.

C.) Please tell us a little about Right to Play’s global reach – how many countries are you operating in?

We’ve transformed the lives of more than 1.9 million children through our activities every week, both inside and outside the classroom. We’re currently operating in around 20 countries.

D) How long have you been operating in Thailand – and please describe the scope of your activities in the Kingdom?

We started helping children in Thailand since 2002 at a refugee camp in Tham Hin District, Kanchanaburi Province. Then we expanded the scope of our work to the south when the tsunami hit Thailand in 2004. Currently, we use our unique methodology of play-based learning not only with the children but also the adults in the communities for three country strategic goals: quality education, child protection, and peaceful communities. We work with the most marginalized and vulnerable children and youth in Thailand, across multiple settings, including youth at risk, in migrant communities, in refugee camps. In total, we work in more than 20 locations across Thailand. In all settings, we strive to be inclusive and to mainstream gender programming. Right To Play also works with parents, communities, and government to improve the lives and rights of all children.

E.) “Protect Educate Empower”, please tell us how you try to do these things through your programs.

This is a new tagline which has just been launched along with our new logo in October in 2018.

It reflects our mission that we are committed to protect, educate and empower children to rise above adversity using the power of play. We know that play is one of the most fundamental and powerful forces in a child’s life. Our play-based methodologies harness that power to deliver impact in our five global outcome areas: Quality Education, Gender Equality, Child Protection, Health and Well-Being and Peace.

F.) Please give us an example of a Right to Play program in Thailand and how it works.

Right To Play’s program model in Thailand means that we are working to prepare the children and youth we work with for transition, that transition could be life after the refugee camp, or life after detention center, or life beyond being a migrant. The way Right To Play prepares these children and youth is by building their life skills so that they are equipped for their uncertain future. These life skill areas we are focused on include; program solving and decision making, managing emotions, developing healthy relationships with others, appreciating values of self and others, and goal setting. We work in the communities to ensure that these children and youth are given a voice and a sense of agency and therefore, have a greater chance of succeeding in their unknown future.

This program is implemented in four languages and reaches around 50,000 children and youth every week around Thailand.

G.) What’s your concern in 2019?

There are many concerns for next year, if I were to prioritize, I would say, Early Education programs in the refugee camps. There is a huge gap in funding and the nutrition program will finish before the start of the next academic year (April 2019). There is also a shortfall in the running costs of the Early Education program with the withdrawal of the main funder. This is a huge concern, for the nursery-school-age children, their families, and the community. The cost of maintaining the nutrition program is 5 baht per child per day. There are currently 4,000 of nursery children in seven refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border.

We have a big gap in nutrition programs in nursery school children in nine camps. Nursery school programs are facing big cut because donors have withdrawn the support.

We are also grateful for any kind of in-kind support such as; teaching and learning materials, sports equipment, refreshments, snack for kids. If anybody would like to contribute somehow, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at [email protected].