Written by Yasmin Hussain
Almost 3 years ago I joined Play for Peace just before the shutdown happened around the globe. I experienced the power of Play for Peace through online connections for some time. The excitement and joy were there, I happily jumped on meetings to connect with people across the globe, but, as you all know, the energy we all had for jumping on video calls slowly faded and the word “Zoom Fatigue” entered the world.
Fast forward to April 2022, when we were asked to host an in-person workshop at California State University, Chico on Community Service Learning. CSU was invited, together with a couple of other universities, to host the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), a program through the U.S. Department of State. This program supported a group of university-aged students from all over Iraq who were selected to travel to the US for a series of cultural exchange workshops and leadership training experiences. It was my first in-person workshop with Play for Peace and I was beyond ready to see Play for Peace live with my own eyes.
With the help of my mentors and incredible facilitators (Craig Dobkin, Sarah Gough, and Marilyn Levin), I was ready as I walked through the Chico State campus to meet the group I was going to work with. Of course, the jitters and excitement flowed through my body as I sat in the student welcome ceremony. My nerves grew steadily, as I tend to put more pressure on myself than needed. Then, the students flooded into the room and greeted me with the biggest smiles. At that moment I realized I had been centering myself, pressuring myself that “I” had to do a good job representing Play for Peace, instead of focusing on the connection I was about to create with the group. That lump in my stomach slowly faded and my genuine excitement to learn and get to know everyone grew.
After our first activity together I really settled into my body. I brought my childhood beanie babies (90's baby alert) to the activity as implements. It would have been easier to buy small bean bags "activity throwables" on location, but I'm glad I didn't because the students got to see a piece of my life story through them. Though I only used the beanie babies in one activity, students held them for the remainder of our time together, showing their care for my story and our process together. This was another point of personal connection for us. In the planning process, I was only focused on the activity steps to carry the teachable moment, but in the workshop, I realized the unplanned in-person moments, sharing of our stories, human to human, was just as important as the content I was sharing.
We laughed with each other and were vulnerable together. One student shared: “Literally for the first time, I’m encouraged and I can talk to people, you are just amazing.” This message, and other positive feedback, reinforced my desire as a facilitator to focus on supporting participants with content but to also intentionally build deep connections. Unplanned "watercooler" moments were something that was deeply missing during pandemic shutdown periods.
After 3 years of working online, I deeply understand the need to prioritize connections and release expectations around planned outcomes. So many companies and organizations are focused now on "catching up" and bottom lines, starting out meetings or gatherings with tasks and outputs with an aim for efficiency. However, I encourage all managers, facilitators, and leaders to take a minute and look into the eyes of your group as you get started. Some days you will need a longer time to connect, and other days it may be shorter, but setting that intentional time to invest in each other as human beings before jumping into "business" can change the quality of our life and work, even opening up the possibility of a life-changing exchange of words and stories.
Interested in experiencing Play for Peace yourself? We have online experiences (outside Zoom) that recreate in-person workshops to the best of our ability without full VR suits! Find out more at https://my.playforpeace.org/playscape
Live Laughter. Choose Compassion. Practice Peace.