Enjoy playing and change the future

“I want my children to choose their future by themselves” and “I want my children to become educated persons.” These are answers from parents we got a chance to talk to while visiting their homes and asking what their wishes were for their children. What is needed for their wishes to come true? A good school and education? More money? Yes, these are necessary, but I would like to add one more now: play!

Every child should have the right to play; they need a safe place to play, which is difficult in a refugee camp. We can understand them when we imagine life in the temporary shelter. But why is play so important for children? I found one of the possible answers to this question on the IWitness trip.

Puppet show with Parent’s Club in Umpiem Camp. Photo by Moeka Kanamura.

While visiting our first camp, Umpiem, we learned many things. For example, that it is good for an NGO to have a private company like IKEA as a donor—it is politically independent and stable. We learnt about the reality of the camp situation, and we had some activities to learn about disabilities. We also had interactions with parents, grandparents and children.

For me, these learnings created impressive and eye-opening moments, but also left me a little confused. Almost all of the camp-based staff said that their expectation for IWitness ambassadors was to enjoy playing with children; their main reasons to work with Humanity & Inclusion is to support children to enjoy playing. Although we saw many smiles, I was worried. People from different countries are coming, playing, taking pictures and then going back to outside the fences every time. Do children really enjoy these moments? Is it enough that we just enjoy playing together?

Making toys with paper cups in Mae La camp. Photo by Satoko Shinjo.

When we visited the second camp, Mae La, I was still not sure about what we should do. It was difficult for me just to play with the children but Humanity & Inclusion (HI) staff helped me a lot. They helped us divide the children into groups for our activities, understood what activity I wanted to do, and also added their own creativity. I just said “we will make spiders with paper cups” and they started making holes for the spider legs. They made their own spiders together with children and added wings, long legs and so on. The children saw and mixed these ideas to create their original spiders. HI staff know how to create a “play environment”, they are professional and enjoy it.

Spider with wings and long legs. Photo by Caroline Westhoff.

Naw Koeo, a woman we met in the rehabilitation centre, also changed my way of thinking. Naw Koeo was injured by a landmine and has a leg prosthesis. At first, I worried that she might receive the same questions every time. However, she said she can encourage other patients since she has had the same experience, and now is working as HI staff. Through that, her children are able to go to school. It seems that she is proud of her job and I saw she was talking to a man who had just arrived at the rehabilitation centre one day before we visited. I realised that HI staff well understand what they are able to do. That must be the reason why camp-based staff in Umpiem said “enjoy”; they know well about their situation and really want children to get pleasure from playing. If the children also feel that we really enjoy these moments, they could remember it as good memory.

Everyone enjoyed the Head-Shoulders-Knees and Toes song! Photo by Caroline Westhoff.

Finally, I understood the significance of play by talking to a mother whom we visited at her house. Marry Moo is raising her two children by herself, trying to have playing time with them although it is hard to make it. She is a member of the Parents’ Club where HI share skills with parents and grandparents in how to listen to children and how to raise them to be decision-makers. When we asked her about what kind of play she usually does with her children, she said some activities and added this sentence: “HI gives me the ideas.” That made sense to me. During our activities, HI staff shared their ideas with children and, based on that, the children build their own ideas.

Marry Moo and her children. Her words made me realise how important play is. Photo by Kumiko Kono.

Playing with others gives us a chance to share various ideas. For the children who are not able to leave the camps, playing with people from different countries is an opportunity to know more about the world and meet new concepts. To get more possibilities in the future, those experiences and ideas can prove to be helpful. And this is why “play” is so important and I learned it mainly through playing with children, their parents, HI staff and my other IWitness colleagues. “Play” changed my way of thinking.

Alexey Kruk, HI co-ordinator of the Growing Together project said: “We cannot promise a bright future to the children, but we can support them by building their resilience and giving necessary life skills that will help to make their future brighter.”

HI and IKEA Foundation support this through playing. Play has the power to change something. Let’s play for change and enjoy it!

    Mika Tatsuki