“Within humanitarian responses, programmatically, children often become invisible” (Marc Sommers). This project seeks to challenge this notion and expand the remit of what is deemed necessary in emergency situations. We believe that children have a right to an education, to feel safe, to play and to develop confidence in themselves.
The crisis in Syria has devastated lives; uprooting families from their homes and forcing them to leave the country to find safety elsewhere. Neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, have seen a dramatic rise in migration but do not have the resources needed to support this. As of March 2015, the country hosts over 1.1 million refugees; in a nation of only 4.5 million people. The UNHCR predicts that there are over 600,000 children amongst these refugees. Currently, in Lebanon, most of the Syrian refugees live in informal settlements with uncertainty and little access to the necessary services. The UN, different nation states and international NGO’s have delivered some support but refugee camps do not provide a vibrant and safe atmosphere for children to grow up in.
Article 31 of the UN convention for the Rights of Children states that we should recognise their rights to: “rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities ... to participate fully in cultural and artistic life”. We believe that children have a right to feel safe, to play and to develop confidence in themselves. If children live in insecurity, feeling vulnerable and with a poor education, then how can they go on to make changes in the future. It is for this reason that we have decided to take action.
We are advocating for a design that questions the definition of a playground in an emergency response. The innovative process lies within not simply providing playing facilities (swing, slide, etc.) but rather in exploring opportunities that enable these children to design the playground themselves. This makes each playground specific for its context, time and people.
Pilot Project: IBTASEM playground in Bar Elias, Lebanon
We have partnered with different organisations and worked alongside the families within an informal tented settlement to deliver a playground; a space of fun, recreation, learning and confidence building. Kayany Foundation, our local partner, has intervened by providing some of these children with direct access to education, in partnership with the Community Development and Projects unit (CDPu), at the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) American University of Beirut, and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA). 4 schools were built serving 17 Informal Tented Settlements that provide over 1,100 Syrian children with the formal Lebanese curriculum, psychological support and basic numeracy and literacy programs. As part of the Syrian Relief Project (SRP) initiated by AUB, a playground represents a vital role in providing relief for the Syrian children who have witnessed conflict and displacement. We believe that these children deserve the right to play and heal following the trauma of war.
The playground has been designed with the input of the children themselves; having completed exercises that allow them to express their own ideas. The playground is be a space where these children can play, rest and feel safe; a space of security in this vulnerable environment. We believe that this is a worthwhile, timely and necessary project that will help a generation of children that may otherwise suffer from psychological trauma and developmental issues. Children are the future and if we are to see change in the world we need to provide them with hope and a feeling of security.
The playground has been constructed in August 2015 (9th August-31st August) with a participatory and democratic approach; prioritising children within the process. CatalyticAction hosted a Design-Build Workshop facilitated by AUB-CCECS, allowing local and international volunteers get involved in this project. The workshop was divided into two complimentary workshops. The first workshop focuses on building the structure of the playground. The second workshop focuses on the playground components and finishing, where the children themselves were part of the construction and design process together with the workshop participants (to know more about the workshop read Enrico's blog post)
This allowed for a multicultural and interdisciplinary process where the participants from various professional backgrounds worked alongside local NGO’s, and the residents of the settlements. This design approach makes the project specific to this time and this space, therefore not identically replicable in a different context. The involvement of the children since the inception of the project until the actual building gives them a sense of ownership and attachment to the playground.
The sport freestyle group Da Move has been supporting this project by putting their efforts towards its realisation; as it includes sports facilities that coincides with their work. In addition Da Move provided a 2 days basketball freestyle training for the children. This presented a great opportunity for the children to use the playground in a disciplined and fun way. A group of these children showed talent and were able to perform with Da Move during the inauguration of the playground (5th September), which was a fantastic day of fun and physical education.
On the 12th of June 2015 we successfully concluded our fundraising campaign collecting the 103% of the required funds for this project. Please check our indiegogo page for more info on the fundraising campaign. The extra funds collected will go into scaling up the project.
The Catalyst Effect: Scaling up
The pilot project acts as a catalyst! It triggered the awareness of the much-needed space for refugee children. We are currently working on scaling up the project and designing playgrounds in the other Kayany’s schools in the Bekaa, Lebanon. We are also working with Jusoor NGO in Lebanon to design playgrounds in two of their educational centers in Lebanon.
The name of our Association, Vimala, or “purity”, comes from the name of the dermatological hospital in Mumbai. The Association was founded on 12 January 1999 by Mimmi and Ornella; it is a charitable, non-political and non-denominational association that pursues the sole objective of social solidarity with those who are disadvantaged due to their physical, mental, economic, social or family conditions. It was the result of a meeting between the founders and the “Amici delle Missionarie dell’Immacolata” (“Friends of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate”) and a group of volunteers actively engaged in assisting, supporting and treating the many Tibetans who have fled from Tibet and are currently living in refugee camps in India.
Thank you to Arup for having kindly provided engineering consultancy for the structure of the playground.
Thanks to Elias Chikhani, Tania Kammoun and Amy O'Brien for the video production. Thanks to Pedro Pablo Mora for the fantastic sketches of the playground. Thanks to Amour Samar for having contacted us to send us some beautiful illustrations of the playground. Thanks to the amazing workshop participants: Odysseas Mourtzouchos, Lorenzo Conti, Enrico Porfido, Maha Mrad, Wael Itani, Mohamad Fardoun, Sibylle George, Louma Ismail, Tarek Hobeika, Stefania Gyftopoulou, Stephanos Theodotou, Alberto Piccioli and Ronan Glynn! Finally thanks to all the people who supported and shared this initiative, you really made a difference.
This project was awarded a Commendation in the ASF Award "2015 Learning South of North”.