How Grover helped me explain the Olympic Refugee Team to my child

The furry blue monster from Sesame Street explains to kids how some athletes don’t have a country.

Refugee Olympic Team's flag bearer Rose Nathike Lokonyen leads the delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016. AFP | Leon Neal |Getty Images

The refugee crisis has been unfolding for some years now, with horrifying stories and images appearing in my news feed on a near-daily basis. My son, who’s six, has so far been mostly unaware of what’s been going on—until Friday when we let him stay up late to watch the Olympic opening ceremony. When he asked about the Refugee Team, I explained that they were a team of stateless athletes who’ve come together to compete in the Games under the Olympic flag. As we watch together in the coming weeks, I know he’ll certainly ask more: about their lack of home country—he likes placing the various teams on the map—and I’ve been wondering if my planned speech about how some people were “not nice” to these athletes is going to cut it.

Fortunately, Grover, one of the many amusing puppets from Sesame Street, has got me covered. Sesame Street recently made a video in which Grover explains the refugee team to kids. Sure, Grover isn’t a member of the International Rescue Committee, but I think this furry, blue—and okay, somewhat pedantic—monster can explain why these athletes have fled their home countries better than even UNICEF could. As Grover says:

“This super special team is full of athletes that come from many different countries. They are called refugees because they had to leave their homes. Life in their countries was not safe for them. Leaving their homes was sad, but this summer the athletes are getting a chance to do something they love. They are competing in the summer Olympics!”

Grover from Sesame Street

Sesame Street character Grover. FilmMagic | Getty Images

A lot of discussions at my son’s school lately involve bullying and how to manage the power battles that erupt on the playground or in the lunchroom. We talk about being nice to people even when they’re different from us. Most importantly, we talk a lot about standing up for people when they’re being pushed around or left out. And what is the refugee crisis but that on a grand scale? The IOC doesn’t have a lot of power to change world events, but they do have the power to make their corner of the world—the Olympic Games—open and inclusive to people who’ve dealt with more than their fair share of “not nice.”

This is what I hope that my son understands, watching these people who’ve been through dreadful trials and are still standing alongside their colleagues, if not compatriots: You can’t prevent all the bad things in the world from happening. You can’t stop everyone from being unkind or ungenerous. But you can extend a hand to people who’ve been abused or left out. The IOC, in creating the Refugee Team, shows how everyone—from the kids in the lunchroom to the podiums at Rio—can show a bit of kindness to those in need.

Leigh Anderson
Leigh Anderson
Leigh Anderson is the author of "The Games Bible: The Rules, The Gear, The Strategies" (Workman, 2010) and has written for Vox, Newsweek.com, and Popular Science, among others.

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