Childhood – February 9 2018

Safe parks and playgrounds for children

Children have a right to leisure, play and culture, as stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But many communities lack the infrastructure so children can play and have fun in safe spaces. Safe parks and playgrounds are one way of giving children the opportunity to just be children – in protected spaces where they can enjoy themselves and learn.

Mthatha, South Africa

The Eastern Cape is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. For children in Mthatha, a municipality in the Eastern Cape, playing outside often means playing in the street or in a local park. These public spaces in some cases mean children are exposed to crime, drugs, and other realities that may be harmful for them.

To ensure access to a more suitable space for children, SOS Children’s Villages South Africa is partnering with the local municipality to offer children from the community a so-called safe park.

“This safe park is the first of its kind for SOS South Africa, but also in the country. It is the first time that a safe park has been connected to a child and youth centre or, as we know it, an SOS Children’s Village,” said Mr. Stephen Miller, National Director for SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.

Photo: Suri Tsholetsane

The concept of a safe park focuses on play and fun, an entrenched right for all children. It is a protected and secure place where young people from SOS families and the surrounding community can interact and play under the supervision of a qualified child and youth care worker. It provides structured programmes and activities, such as homework supervision, life skills workshops, therapeutic programmes, food security, gardening and feeding schemes, as well as emotional support and recreational programmes.

Photo: Suri Tsholetsane

Many households in the surrounding community are headed by grandmothers, explains Barrington Makhunga, Programme Director at SOS Children’s Village Mthatha. Children are either living with a grandmother because their parents have migrated to other provinces to seek work, or because parents have passed away.

“We want those grandmothers to be part of this”, says Mr Makhunga. “There will also be a toy library here, looking at providing support to the families so that children can really start to prepare themselves for the future.”

The safe park in Mthatha has become a reality thanks to a donation by Old Mutual Staff Volunteer Fund Trust. Old Mutual is an investment and banking group in South Africa.

Carabayllo, Peru

In Peru, a similar project is being launched on the outskirts of Lima. The Carabayllo district is the city’s largest neighbourhood with a population of almost 300,000 habitants.

Photo: Alejandra Kaiser

In Lima there are very few parks that have playgrounds equipped for recreational activities for young children. The few parks and green areas that do have playgrounds are in poor conditions and not adequately maintained, which can put children in danger.

To respond to the lack of proper spaces for children to play, SOS Children’s Villages Peru has developed the safe and inclusive playground project in collaboration with the Municipality of Carabayllo.

This initiative includes the design and implementation of two playgrounds for children under the age of seven in two local parks. The locations were selected based on high numbers of children in the surrounding communities.

Photo: Alejandra Kaiser

To best meet the needs of the community, children and parents from the neighbourhood were invited to participate in the development process. Children’s expectations were captured through a drawing contest, where they could visually express their dreams and wishes for the parks. Parents were interviewed to collect their feedback, concerns and input regarding safety, maintenance and use of the parks.

“The main objective is to support the family, contribute to the decline of domestic violence, and promote healthy family relationships”, says Victoria Hugo Castañeda, director of the SOS Children’s Villages programme San Juan de Lurigancho – Carabayllo.

Once the two playgrounds officially open in March 2018, SOS Children’s Villages will offer a variety of activities for children in the framework of SOS family strengthening, including open theatres, family festivals and workshops for parents and members of the community.

Photo: Alejandra Kaiser

“Children need to play as part of their growth. Sometimes they play in rusted playgrounds and that could be harmful to them, it’s scary. So this is a good thing for the children, they can have healthy fun and get distracted”, says Esther Lariz, one of the mothers in the community. “I will tell my children that if they do their homework, we can then come to the park so they can play. They will relax and have fun in a safe place.”
This project has been made possible thanks to the support of the Bernard Van Deer Foundation.

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