Growing up in a refugee camp is incredibly difficult, especially if you're a child with a disability. Play is a fundamental right for all children, including refugees. That’s why the IKEA Foundation is supporting Growing Together, a new Handicap International project that gives displaced children in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Thailand the right to be a child.
Handicap International is one of six partners for the new Let's Play for Change campaign, which begins on Children’s Rights Day, Nov. 20. For every children’s book and toy sold in IKEA stores between today and Dec. 24, the IKEA Foundation will donate $1 to support children’s right to play.
“Sadly, many refugee children don’t have the opportunity to be a child,” says Cheryl Shin-Hua Yeam, Handicap International’s regional technical coordinator of the new Growing Together project. "Their right to play is often undermined or not prioritized,” even though the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child should have the right to play.
Play is incredibly important. "Play makes children happy and healthy," Cheryl adds. "It allows them to learn, improves their self-esteem, and helps them to develop important life skills such as empathy, communication, and resilience to stress.”
Handicap International’s Growing Together project directly addresses this pressing issue. Over a four-year period, the project, financed by the IKEA Foundation, will empower children seeking refuge in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Thailand. Staff will create inclusive playgrounds, where vulnerable refugee children can feel safe and develop through an approach that is natural to them: play.
“This will promote their well being and help their personal development to flourish,” Cheryl adds. “Child friendly spaces give refugee children the opportunity to share traumatizing experiences with a professional as well as with each other. Children feel safe. They can relax, smile, play, and just be a child again - essential elements for their mental and physical health.”
Play also helps refugee children address their reality in a productive manner. ”For refugee children, play is a basic need,” Cheryl says. ”What’s more, play is an important tool for them to deal with their difficult situation. Because being a child in a refugee camp doesn’t come easy. Having fled war and violence, refugee children have to deal with difficult backgrounds and face poor living conditions. Play can help them to work through some of their issues and to be a child.”
In Mae La Refugee Camp (Thailand), 40,000 refugees share just one soccer field. “We have no place to play,” says Eike, a ten-year-old who lives in the camp. “We play around the house or around the nearby temple, but that’s far from ideal. And we have no toys.”
Children with disabilities even more excluded from play
According to research from the IKEA Foundation, the funding partner of the Growing Together project, children with mental and physical disabilities are often the most likely to be excluded from play and learning activities. Handicap International, which has been working in refugee camps for 30 years, confirms this. “You don’t see children with disabilities play,” Cheryl says.
“Our safe spaces will be accessible and inclusive so that children of all kinds can come together and learn together: children with and without disabilities, children with learning disorders, mental problems, children who are chronically ill, so on.”
In Mae La Camp in Thailand, on the border of Myanmar, there’s one football field for 40,000 refugees. The narrow steep paths, filled with holes and loose rocks, make it extremely hard for children with disabilities to find a place to play.
The Growing Together project runs for four years, and will empower 13,000 vulnerable boys and girls (0-18 years old) and their families in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Thailand.
Besides the creation of inclusive, educational playgrounds, the project will also pay attention to the youngest children who are at risk of developmental delays. Thanks to early detection and rehabilitation, some disabilities can be prevented, and the lives of children with long-term disabilities can be made more fulfilling. In a safe environment, parents and caregivers will learn how they can support their child to develop and be more independent.
At the same time, the project will engage with local child development service providers to be more responsive to the needs of disabled and vulnerable children, and it will help these organizations implement measures to facilitate the inclusion of these children in schools and communities. The collaboration with local organizations will help ensure the sustainability of the project.
WHERE: FORGOTTEN REFUGEE CAMPS
The refugee camps in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Thailand remain largely forgotten by the world, despite their decades-old existence. Living conditions in the camps are alarming. In Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, stateless Rohingya refugees struggle to survive, while living in squalid conditions, vulnerable to disease and exploitation. They are categorically denied legal protection and humanitarian assistance. In the Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan, people face harsh weather conditions, children suffer from poor health, and many people are depressed since they have little to do but stand in line for food distributions. Depression is also very common in the Karen refugee camps in Thailand (Myanmar border), where an estimated 111,000 people rely heavily on humanitarian assistance. Many people were born in the camps and have never set foot outside.
HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL’S EXPERIENCE
Thanks to its work in refugee camps all over the world, Handicap International brings a wealth of experience to the Growing Together project and an extensive knowledge of the region.
Handicap International was founded in Thailand in 1982, to help Cambodian refugees that were injured by landmines. Two years later, our work expanded along the border with Myanmar. In Pakistan since the early 1980s, Handicap International first supported Afghan refugees – today, our work involves helping people who are vulnerable to natural and human disasters. Handicap International has been present in Bangladesh since 1997. Our past actions are an excellent starting point for the Growing Together project: providing community-based rehabilitation, empowering people with disabilities, and supporting their inclusion in local communities.
Also, play has always been an important element in our rehabilitation approach, for it stimulates children to do their exercises and helps them to improve their strength, flexibility, motor skills, and mobility.
FINANCED BY IKEA FOUNDATION
The Growing Together project is financed by IKEA Foundation (the philanthropic arm of INGKA Foundation, the owner of the IKEA Group of companies), and supported by IKEA’s new good cause campaign: Let’s Play for Change. For every children’s book and toy sold in an IKEA store between November 20 and December 24, 2016, the IKEA Foundation will donate €1 to support the Growing Together project and the projects of five other partner organizations.
More info: www.ikeafoundation.org