The Player - Jacquie Labatt Photography

The Player

As featured in MORE Magazine, May 2012

What makes Clara Hughes smile? Olympic glory, to be sure, but so does a group of Malian children. On a recent trip to one of the poorest regions of Africa, Canada`s two-sport superstar stepped away from her rigorous training regimen to embrace her role as an athlete ambassador.
Clara is welcomed by a corridor of children chanting "Right To Play" in remote Ouroun, Mali
Chanting “right to play,” the children of Ouroun, Mali welcome Hughes to their village where she helps fund a literacy program for young adults.

Children participate in a RTP game in Bougouni, Mali. Mali has a high level of poverty and social indicators remain among the lowest in<br />
the world. Almost one in two Malians is poor; most of the poor live in rural areas, are<br />
illiterate, and earn their living from subsistence farming. Demographic pressure contributes<br />
to poverty aggravation and based on various reviews and studies, Mali will not be able to<br />
reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. (World Bank).
Children take a break during Right To Play “games,” dynamic exercises that teach lessons about teamwork and disease protection.

a young woman dribbles a basketball at a refurbished court in Sebenikoro, Bamako, Mali
For a Malian girl, simply learning to dribble a basketball challenges cultural norms.

Clara takes a break with  baskeball players at Sebenikoro field, Bamako, Mali
Hughes relaxes after shooting hoops with Malian teens.

A young girl holds Clara`s hand.
A young girl holds hands with her new Canadian friend.

Class of children in Ouron, Mali. Children in window are called "enfants a l'exterieure" - they must attend class listening from porch because no room left in classroom
In a typically overcrowded Malian classroom, Ouroun students double up at desks while others —known as “outside children” — lean in through open windows.

Clara plays RTP games with children in Bougouni, Mali
Instilling the seeds of inclusion and gender equality through sports sparks Hughes’ passion.

Little boy carries a bowl of local porridge home to his village in Bougouni, Mali. Although a number of public policies demonstrate the government’s willingness<br />
to assist the poor and the vulnerable, poverty alleviation programs may not be effective<br />
and the social safety nets remain minimal compared to the needs. Nutritional indicators are of particular concern in Mali, as 81 percent of children<br />
have some form of anemia and 38 percent of children under 5 years old show significant<br />
levels of stunting and wasting.  (World Bank)
After a cooking and nutrition lesson for mothers and children, a boy carries home a bowl of porridge.
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