Inspiring Tomorrow’s Changemakers: Hana’s Story
“There was something inside me. I wanted to be big, an influential woman.”
As a child growing up in central Ethiopia, Hana dreamed that she would one day use her voice to create meaningful change for her community.
She held on to that dream during her parents’ separation and divorce, when home became a less stable place. She held on to it with each agonizing move to a new home and a new community, bouncing between distant relatives and 11 different schools.
The stress and neglect Hana experienced during her transient childhood years grew into depression and anxiety. “I wanted to hide myself from that hardship,” Hana recalls.
Hana found her escape in extracurricular activities. But with the support and opportunities Hana got from Nunu, a Right To Play-trained Coach, she didn’t have to hide anymore. She found a way to be herself and make her dreams reality.
HEALING FROM EMOTIONAL HARDSHIP
Hana was in Grade 4 when she started at a new school far from home.
“It was my first time being separated from my parents,” explains Hana. “I was depressed and anxious and I could not sustain relationships. I found it difficult to connect with people. I was afraid of being abandoned and I had separation anxiety.”
Hana’s search for comfort and connection led her to join a Right To Play weekend program that had started operating at her school.
There, Hana met Nunu.
“I started to show more progress in my studies and developing other skills.” - Hana, Right To Play alumna
“When I met Hana, I was working at six schools,” remembers Nunu. In her role as a Right To Play-trained Coach, Nunu uses play to make learning fun and to help children open up and express themselves.
During the Saturday program, Nunu led Hana and other children through games that taught them about communication, decision-making, critical thinking, collaboration, and confidence. While she was playing, Hana forgot the despair she felt over her separation from her family.
“The program helped me cope with stress,” says Hana. “The games we played helped me focus on my studies, and I started sharing more of my ideas.”
Nunu offered something else Hana was missing. After years spent feeling isolated and unseen, having a trusted adult to confide in and learn from meant the world.
“Nunu distracted me from the bad things in my life, like a medicine,” remembers Hana.
THE CYCLE OF MENTORSHIP
As Hana’s confidence grew, younger children in the program started looking up to her. Nunu took notice and encouraged Hana to start leading some of the games she’d learned.
“After the games concluded, [Hana] helped the children reflect, connect, and apply what they learned,” Nunu remembers.
After feeling like she had no one and nothing to offer, Hana found her way to leadership. The chance to unlock skills and confidence gave her hope – and she resolved to help the next generation of girls have this same chance.
In the years that followed, Hana organized a children’s parliament and theatre and art clubs, where she put girls’ voices at the centre of activities. She attended university to study marketing. Today, she uses her leadership skills and creativity as a motivational speaker, coach, mentor, and social media influencer.
When she leads team-building activities in schools, Hana challenges youth to access their playful side. She knows from experience how effective this method can be. It helped her get to where she is today.
INSTILLING CONFIDENCE AND HOPE
Fourteen years after they first met, Hana and Nunu reunited in March 2023 for an International Women's Day event with Right To Play.
The event brought 500 students, teachers, and parents together at a school just blocks away from where Hana grew up.
The obstacles Hana faced then weren’t far from her thoughts as she spoke passionately to the girls seated before her, reminding them that they can dream bigger than they think.
It’s hard for girls in Ethiopia to realize their rights and dreams. About 40% of girls marry before they turn 18. Only 25% attend secondary school. Even if they can attend school, a lack of period products, inadequate bathrooms, and lessons that reinforce gender norms can make it difficult for them to succeed.
A few of the girls in the audience were members of a Right To Play Girls’ Club, already paving the way for the future they choose and motivating others to do the same. They were inspired by the sight of Hana speaking into a microphone and commanding the attention of an audience.
They weren’t the only ones.
“When I see your success,” Nunu said to Hana after the presentation, “I feel I’ve harvested the seeds that I planted. I feel proud.”