Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province sits adjacent to the Afghan border. Since the early 1980s, it's been home to unrest, religious extremism, and conflicts. These have had profound influences on local society. Among the most heartbreaking: children left with no safe places to play.
But recently it was the scene of a great celebration. At the center of a crowd stood nine-year old Shayan Khan, a boy with disability, and an active member of one of Humanity & Inclusion's children's clubs. Leaning on his crutch, he used his free hand to reach above his head to cut a bright red ribbon. The area's first playground was open!
The children rushed onto the playground! "The fact that they ignored the food and just wanted to make pots of clay, try out the truck tires and the swings, and run around, is the best evidence of success you can have," notes Tabriz Shamsi, program officer for Humanity & Inclusion Pakistan.
“It was a bit of a challenge when it came to acquiring land that had easy access for all children and that was secure. We found a land in Jalozai, next to an orphanage known as Rashid Shaheed Foundation. The owner of the orphanage donated the land and HI teams constructed the playground with help of community members. The 200 children of the orphanage will each plant a tree to build a natural wall of protection around the playground.”
A powerful idea: inclusion
The inclusive playground does more than give kids a safe place to play. It's also introducing the idea of inclusion and helping parents and civil society understand that children with disabilities and those with developmental delays can also play—especially when playgrounds are inclusive.
“This is a big step forward," says Tabriz. "In this region, children with disabilities are generally kept at home. Parents and local organizations have a charity-based approach towards children with disabilities, meaning they are the passive recipients of aid. The idea of inclusion is rather new.
“We are very pleased that the opening ceremony was attended by high officials from several departments and by community personnel. The speeches had sign language interpretation, and stressed the importance of inclusion. The biggest moment was, of course, when Shayan cut the ribbon."
The playground construction is part of HI’s Growing Together Project that is financed by Ikea Foundation. Through play, the project aims to improve the lives of vulnerable children in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand, including children with disabilities. Jalozai once held one of Pakistan's biggest refugee camps, and is still home many internally displaced families. The Growing Together project targets vulnerable children from those displaced families and from permanent residents.
HI is constructing five more playgrounds. The team continues to offer a range of activities for children, parents, the community, and local organizations, in order to promote inclusion and play. These actions support early child development, because play is a fundamental right and is essential for a child’s physical and mental health. The project also has set up children’s clubs where children of all abilities can play, learn and grow together.