Originally published in the Austin-American Statesman.

Playing a game for peace

New board game aims to teach peace to Afghanistan’s children of war

By Daniel Lovering
Saturday, September 17, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — With the spin of a numbered wheel, an Afghan child might land in an ambush by turbaned gunmen. Another turn could lead a young player to the safety of a health clinic or classroom.

They are all scenarios 10 – to 14-year -olds must confront in The Road to Peace, a colorful new board game developed by the United Nations to educate local youngsters about Afghanistan’s troubled past and its hopes for the future.

About 10,000 copies of the game are being handed out nationwide to war-affected children, former child soldiers and refugee families, said Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The game, which comes in both the local Dari and Pashto languages, “aims to teach children about the key events in the peace process and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” Edwards said.

The foldable cardboard game is illustrated with a swirling path from one corner labeled “The Past” — with tanks, explosions and a Taliban -style execution — to “The Future,” which shows cheery family scenes, factories and a sweeping blue river.

Along the way, up to six players take turns spinning a numbered wheel and moving improvised game pieces — a button, twig or coin will do — to corresponding numbers on the path representing events or trends in Afghanistan’s recent past.

If a player lands on a negative scenario, such as young girls being turned away from school by a member of the Taliban regime, which was ousted by U.S. -backed forces in 2001, they must move their game piece backward.

Landing on a positive scenario, such as the signing of the 2001 agreement that established a political process and transitional government, lets a player advance toward the brighter future.

“It highlights issues such as the environment, health and education,” Edwards said.

Martin Battersby, an officer for the U.N. Office of Communication and Public Information, said the world body started developing the game more than a year and a half ago.

The move came as Afghanistan, still emerging from decades of civil war, is heading into historic parliamentary elections Sunday and is grappling with a sharp rise in violence in recent months.

The game should prove useful for the U.N. children’s agency, which works with out-of -school and unemployed young people and former child soldiers in Afghanistan, said Edward Carwardine, a UNICEF communi- cations officer.

Most of those children “have had quite negative experiences of life up until now,” he said. “This is a really good tool to help the discussion about possible choices — do you join one of the militias or do you get an education and get a job ?”

The Road to Peace could send encouraging messages to Afghan children and underscore “how the positive choices actually make you a better citizen — you can earn more money, you can be more productive, you can support your family more effectively,” Carwardine said.