In the tornado-ravaged town of Moore, Okla., all people want is for things to return to “normal.” What does “normal” mean? Adults no doubt crave the comfort of their own beds, a running refrigerator, a hot shower. But for kids, “normal” might be as simple as a chance to play.
In the wake of disaster, we must meet our children’s basic needs – food, shelter, water – but it’s not enough. For children whose lives have been turned upside-down, play is absolutely essential for maintaining a sense of stability amidst turmoil and helping them to work through emotional trauma. That’s because play is simple, familiar and joyful – all the things that adversity is not.
It’s easy to push play down the priority list, but luckily child-serving organizations around the world understand its healing power. After Hurricane Sandy, the international nonprofit Save the Children set up safe play areas in shelters “where hundreds of children can be kids again.” After the 2011 tsunami earthquake in Japan, World Vision created child-friendly play spaces because they considered “emotional support to be just as critical as physical assistance for vulnerable children who have experienced disasters.” And when it came to aiding the children affected by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Clinton Global Initiative found that play was “one of the best medicines.”
Play is a critical component to both immediate and long-term rebuilding efforts. In 2005, KaBOOM! committed to building over one hundred playgrounds in the Gulf following Hurricane Katrina. We ended up building 143 (and counting). Kathleen Koch, author of Rising from Katrina, noted that adults “were busy trying to replace physical objects--lost homes, cars, and possessions. [But] there was nothing anyone could do to recapture a lost childhood.”
At one of the Gulf sites where we built a playground – a school in Kiln, Mississippi – the principal reported:
The psychologists in our area have been doing studies on kids in the schools in our district, and they reported seeing things… like thoughts about suicide, murder and other types of violence – truly terrible things. But, they also reported that they didn’t see those things in the kids at North Central Elementary and they attribute a lot of that to the playground.
Similarly, when KaBOOM! joined forces with the town of Joplin, Missouri to build a playground there 16 months after a tornado devastated the area, Superintendent of Joplin Schools CJ Huff noted that talk of suicide decreased. "Playgrounds are a critical component to the infrastructure in any community," he said. "We also found playgrounds were really a place of reunification in the aftermath of the tornado and a meeting place for children who hadn’t seen each other since the storm."
Just a few weeks ago, we helped to rebuild Magnolia Park in the City of Long Beach, which had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Long Beach resident Ryan Spel said, “What a great experience, [it] meant a tremendous amount to me be part of rebuilding my hometown… I will never forget it.”
Back in 2006, KaBOOM! supported a playground-building effort at Plaza Towers Elementary School—one of the two schools demolished by the tornado. As we work on a long-term plan to contribute to the rebuilding efforts of Plaza Towers and the town of Moore, let’s support the organizations on the ground that are seeking resources to address the community’s immediate needs. Save the Children is coordinating a response effort for affected children and families; please support its worthy efforts by making a donation today.
It’s all too easy to forget that kids bear the stress of their families: lost jobs, lost homes, lost lives. Getting outside and having the opportunity to run, laugh, and play is essential—because all children deserve a childhood. Even when faced with trying external circumstances beyond our control, it is our responsibility to ensure that they don’t miss out.
When KaBOOM! announced that we were going to build a playground in the Gulf shortly after Hurricane Katrina, not everyone was happy about it. With so much devastation, some believed that a playground was the last thing people needed. Why invest time, money, and sweat into something so superfluous when residents were still struggling to get basic necessities, like shelter, food, and water?
But we have long contended that play is not superfluous, and this recent piece from CNN echoes our sentiments exactly:
Every time I turn on the radio or the television this week, I'm struck by the absolute devastation caused by the 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti Tuesday.
But there's hope in the midst of the horror. Even as homes and businesses crumble, there are the tales of survival, of communities banding together during their time of need...and they haven't forgotten the importance of play, according to a segment on the Today Show and a story on MSNBC.
“The amount of damage that is done is absolutely catastrophic,” Laurie Bickel, one of the administrators of God’s Littlest Angels Orphanage, said. “People are just sitting in parks. They’re scared to go home or their homes have been destroyed.”
And yet, she said, many people continue to attempt to take what joy life still offers them.
“You get to the playground areas and the kids are just playing. They’re enjoying today; they’re enjoying that moment, and that’s how the Haitian people are,” Bickel said. “In the face of all of this, they’ve been singing and just praising God that they survived, and they are here and they will get through this.”
Read the full article: Amid Haiti horror, stories of survival and hope (MSNBC).
It was so heartening to read this. I hope those kids will be OK after surviving such an awful experience...as long as they keep playing, I'm sure they will be.