Using her voice and gift for teaching, Mercy Abdulsalam inspires and influences change by empowering young people in Nigeria to discover their potential and lead exceptional lives of service. Growing up, she’d been exposed to creative games and sports, however she saw that the support to follow one’s dreams in those realms was non-existent, so she decided to give back to her community in a lasting way. With a team of volunteers, Mercy launched Play2Learn, a project that encourages creativity among vulnerable children ages 3-10 from marginalized communities, thus helping them reach their fullest potential.
Though Mercy originally lived in Okehi, a small town in Kogi state, north-central Nigeria, with her seven siblings, a new job for her father required that they move to Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. Mercy attended the local, community, government school which provided a daily “break time” when she was expected to sit in the classroom or go outside to play sports and games with other kids, despite the fact that there were no properly designed sports areas or educative games. So, she and the other children would use old clothes to make footballs and cardboard and paper to craft airplanes and kites. They’d gather sticks to do relay races, play hide and seek, use stones or bottle caps for counting, draw games on the ground, create teams of girls and boys to do challenges and even dig holes in the ground to play Ayoo, a traditional game. These activities not only brought joy, they allowed the children to enjoy school.
Mercy and many others loved the creative world of sports and even now, she fondly recalls being a female striker on the football team.
“When Mallam Sani, a very committed teacher of sport, gathered us as pupils in primary four for competition, he pushed severally. Still, there was no support for such things. Some of us kept pushing in the football journey and yet no one among us is following their sporting career today because the discouragement was overwhelming. So I have dedicated my life to the younger generation as much as I can in order to touch their lives and encourage them to live their dreams,” said Mercy.
Although 85% of brain development happens before age 5, early childhood development (ECD) continues to be a low priority in developing nations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 12% of children have access to early childhood development centers and this is usually at pre-schools that fail to nurture creativity and imagination because they are focused on rote memorization. For children in urban slums and low-income communities who face extreme poverty, neglect, and poor health, accessing quality ECD is virtually impossible.
Knowing this, Mercy reached out to The Pollination Project with a creative and sustainable idea. Play2Learn sought to improve foundational learning, creativity, self-expression, and constructive problem-solving among children through the construction of innovative and low-cost playgrounds for two, public primary schools using recycled home waste and locally resourced materials to improve cognitive learning.
Today, Play2Learn is looking to train teachers from these select schools and inspire creative play knowing that it teaches children how to confront and overcome challenges and develop resilience. The inspiration and support that Play2Learn provides has the potential to change the life of each and every child who looks to follow their dreams.