2016 Resolution: More Playgrounds Less Battlegrounds

Last night, New Year’s Eve, I was in Berlin. Being from the United States I’m use to hearing lots of fireworks go off. But I swear at midnight every German in the city must have set off a firework. It was incredibly deafening and startling. I wondered if in some small way that’s what it’s like to be in a war zone. It got me thinking about how the thousands of war refugees in the city, especially the children, might be experiencing the event of the night. Because it reminded me of the one time that I was back home in Texas for New Year’s Eve. That night many of neighbors set off fireworks. But the next day our neighbor reminded us that he suffered from PTSD due to having been in war. So he spent the night curled up in the corner of his home.

The night also reminded of when my neighbor and best friend Ian and I used to play war with our army men in the alley between our houses. One New Year’s day we decided to make the play more real by not just throwing pebbles at our army men, but by using the fireworks left over from New Year’s Eve. The explosions, and the destruction was awesome, until it wasn’t. Because that was the last time we played war with our army men. We ended up blowing up, or melting so many of our army men, we couldn’t play war anymore. That lesson stuck with me.

Now, with a new year upon us, I look back. I am grateful. I’m grateful to be alive, to have my basic needs meet. I’m grateful to be in love, and to be able to enjoy exploring the playful world around me. I’m also grateful to be able to observe the tradition of imagining new possibilities for the future. So now I’m resolving to make personal changes based on the life I want to create, and the world I want to live in. What about you?

Iimagine and resolve to help build a world with more playgrounds and less battlegrounds. Because we can live in that world. We once did as children. But today, the battlegrounds continue to grow as the playgrounds continue to disappear. The elite, wealthy and powerful with no skin in the game mislead us into war. They risk the lives of other people’s kids with instruments of war that they did not pay for by selling fear, hatred and death. So if we want to live in a more playful world, where all our children are free to explore and express their inner artist and scientist, we must create it before anymore playgrounds disappear and the battlegrounds continue to spread. We as a global community must take a stand to protect the basic human right of all children to play, because the threat to one child’s right to play is a threat to children everywhere.

Now, today thirty million kids around the world are displaced from their homes and families due to war, conflict, persecution, occupation, natural disaster, deportation, child trafficking, slavery, military enlistment, food shortages, disease and non-existent infrastructure and services. In fact, not since World War II have there been so many kids displaced by war, the majority of which are under the age of twelve.

Syrian kids play in the destruction of the battleground

Those kids now live in refugee camps across the world. Today, New Year’s Day, as everyday they imagine new possibilities for the future. They have hopes for the life they want, and the world they want to live in as well. But due to the sheer number of refugees, governments, international humanitarian organizations, and child welfare experts struggle just to meet those kids most basic needs, while their future commitment to the refugees remains uncertain.

Boy plays in refugee camp at old Nazi airport hangar in Berlin

So while the refugee kids are grateful for what they have been given, they remain scared, deprived and even depressed. But if we do not meet all the refugees’ needs, especially when it comes to war trauma, the negative impacts on the kids, their families and the communities they call home will go on for years to come.

P lay is a fundamental form of therapy for traumatized children. A tried and tested approach calls for the creation of a dedicated play space with trained play workers and therapists that can ensure a safe and caring environment for children to freely express themselves through the play process. In fact, in the aftermath of World War II, play was proven as an emergency relief response for displaced children. During Europe’s postwar reconstruction there were hundreds of thousands of displaced children called: ‘lost children’. It was then that international humanitarian organizations, government officials, and child welfare experts determined the rehabilitation of those children was essential to the biological, moral, and economic reconstruction of Europe. So in response they successfully intervened by providing play spaces with loose-part waste material including from the battleground so the kids could create their own playground.

In Berlin children play in the aftermath of World War II

Now, imagine if today we repurposed, reclaimed and recycled loose-part materials including those taken from the battleground for a refuge playspace that included trained play workers and therapists to ensure a safe and caring environment for children to freely express themselves in the play process. A place where refugee children, along with children from their host country, could create and build a playground together where they could further envision new possibilities beyond their surroundings.

Adventure playgrounds were a refuge for London children displaced by World War II

We at the Refugee Playground Project, an alliance of play experts and social activists from around the world, want to give refugee children the Refuge Playground they need to play and heal. Will you help us by sharing our website, videos, blogs, Facebook page, tweets, donate to our campaign and ask others to do the same?

A Refuge Playground provides a safe and caring play space for all kids, especially those displaced from their homes and families due to war, conflict, persecution, occupation, natural disaster, deportation, child trafficking, slavery, military enlistment, food shortages and disease. In the play space, trauma trained workers facilitate access to recycled, reclaimed and repurposed physical loose-part materials and tools for the kids to freely express themselves in the play process. There kids of all backgrounds and experiences including those of the host community come together to envision new possibilities beyond their surroundings by creating, building and developing their own playground.