Pepperdine student teaches cultural diversity through play

Jerry Darko, a native of Zimbabwe, has developed a new program that inspires students to learn about other countries involving playing games indigenous to those countries.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

International sporting events such as the Olympics have long been acknowledged as an opportunity to celebrate global connection and level the playing field for competitive physical excellence. But a Pepperdine University Master’s of Business Administration student also sees international sports as a way to teach cultural diversity while having some good, clean fun.

Jerry Darko from Botswana is helping launch a new after-school program at Webster Elementary School called “Play Just Like You.” The idea is that a program that teaches how children play in other countries lays the foundation to create tomorrow’s global citizens.

“We have after-school programs with karate, chess, ceramics, volleyball and computers,” Webster Principal Phil Cott said. “Kids on playgrounds frequently just make up new rules for something, so they’re very excited about learning new ways to play. We want our kids to be active and learn about other cultures. This program fits the bill.”

Darko, an MBA finance major at Pepperdine who was born in Zimbabwe and whose parents are from Ghana, was inspired to help create “Play Just Like You” after working with a nonprofit called YouthNoise. Partnered with Nike, YouthNoise helps develop sports programs for children as a way to promote healthy and responsible communities.

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Darko realized that his background in southern African countries gave him a wealth of experience that could be applied to such a program and worked with fellow YouthNoise alumnus Anne Marie to develop “Play Just Like You.”

“It is important to teach kids there is a rest of the world,” Darko said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “And learning rules to new playground games teaches collaboration, strategy and the importance of watching the other team.”

Marie, who will begin graduate studies in public administration at USC in the fall, said Darko’s brainstorm stemmed from the YouthNoise challenge: What do you want to change in your community?

“Jerry’s idea was to introduce children to an international community through sports,” Marie said. “His study themes would include culture, geography, language, history and social issues. So we begin learning about South America by talking about the rain forests.”

Darko said that the classes typically begin with half an hour of indoctrination to the customs of a region the children will be studying for a six- week period, from China to Argentina, before teaching the traditional sports and games of that country.

Webster’s first six-week program will focus on countries in southern Africa and will teach such games as “Dibeke” (akin to kick ball) and “Chicken in the Den” (a form of dodge ball).

“For example, in Botswana, we have a game called Kho Kho,” Darko said. “It’s a complicated game that has both a running and a chasing aspect. The kids really learn a different way to collaborate on the field, different from the traditional American games they are used to.”

Darko has a vested interest in promoting global awareness to the next generation of consumers. He has seen billions in international aid poured into African countries, only to disappear into secret government coffers.

“The money never trickles down to where it is supposed to and where it is most needed,” Darko said. “But investors are now looking to Africa as an emerging market. The idea is that you can go there and set up corporations that develop business opportunities. This is what will help the people of Africa.”

Linda Livingstone, dean of Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management, helped direct Darko toward a grant application to develop “Play Just Like You.”

“Jerry is an outstanding young man,” Livingstone said. “You can tell through what he’s doing here that he has a profound commitment to bettering opportunities for children and nations. Like many other of our MBA students, I see in Jerry a broader responsibility to society. You need to generate profits, sure, but in a way that’s sustainable and with a social conscience.”

Darko first launched a pilot program of “Play Just Like You” at a school in Pacoima last September. Marie said the effort has been a hit.

“We had one kid who was kind of a bully and not into learning about other cultures,” Marie said. “But he had an affinity for remembering all the names of the different southern African countries. So he started showing up with all these fun facts he had looked up online. The other kids were constantly asking him questions. The whole thing just worked.”

Darko is pooling students from Our Lady of Malibu, Calmont School and Webster for this pilot program in Malibu. They will begin with six weeks of studying southern African nations and cultures, including bouts of Kho Kho.

What is one of the first lessons the children will learn?

“Osiame!” Darko said with a laugh. “In Setswanan dialect, it means, ‘Go For It!”

More information about this program can be obtained by visiting the Web site www.playjustlikeyou.com

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