Our vision is a playground within walking distance of every child in America, but if we had our way, the same would one day be true for every child in the world. The play deficit is not a uniquely American problem.
It’s telling that in some of the most impoverished countries—where many families struggle for basic necessities, like food, water, and shelter—children still find ways to play. As Sports Without Borders puts it: “There is no childhood without play.”
Here are three inspiring recent initiatives to bring play to children in need:
Peace Corps Volunteer Greg Plimpton tells the story behind the first playground built in the town of San Luis de Canete, Peru:
“As a Peace Corps Volunteer, my first project was to survey local neighborhoods to determine local needs and possible projects. As I went from home to home, I noticed that there were often young children inside, watching television or playing games indoors, even though it was summer and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.
"I was puzzled by this and asked why. I was told there was no safe place for the children to play outside, and homes here are built side by side, with little or no yard. I collaborated with Angel Garcia, my community partner and San Luis Parks and Recreation Director, to write a grant proposal, which was approved by the Mayor and town council. Dozens of my friends contributed the $1200 donations, which the Municipality matched with land, labor, transportation and materials.
"Nearly all the materials were obtained or created locally. Used tires were donated by local tire shops and the local fire house donated rolls of used fire-hose. A last-minute addition was the shade tarp, to temper the intense summer sun of the tropics. The park is PACKED every day. The city has now applied for money from the Federal government to build two more, as well as a skate park. Seeing the smiles and laughter of the children has been one of the highlights of my Peace Corps service.”
In Zanzibar, the One World Futbol Project has partnered with the Zanzibar National Sports Council and Save the Children to distribute 20,000 virtually-indestructible balls to all the schools and youth programs on the islands of Unguja and Pemba. Says Sandra Cress on the One World Futbol blog:
"Even in the hot mid-day sun, with no water to drink and no shoes on their feet, the children play football with abandon. They play with balls that are made up of rags tied together. They play with old soccer balls that have no outside leather left, and no air in them—deflated bladders so that balls just barely roll. They play on the beaches; on the stone streets in Stonetown; on thorny, patchy fields that double as cow pastures. The goals are made up of sticks, PVC pipes, even coconut tree trunks.
"The children imitate the moves of their soccer heroes—Messi, Ronaldo, Mata, Van Persie, and other global soccer superstars. Someone calls a foul, and one child studiously paces off the 10 meters from the free kick. The 'Beautiful Game' helps these children be healthy in unhealthy circumstances. It allows them time to feel good and experience joy, to bond with teammates. Playing soccer helps them learn and follow rules of the game. It builds self-esteem and teaches them to treat each other with respect.
"Mubarak Mambud, the tireless Director of Save the Children, Zanzibar, speaks of how much more attentive and productive children are when they have time to play. Having access to a ball in school even reduces truancy and decreases behavior disruptions in school."
On February 28, a team of 20 traveled to Haiti to install a Kids Around the World (KIDS) playground at an orphanage in Saline Mayette. There are over 100 children in the orphanage and 310 children attending the school. Most of the children come to the orphanage with at least second-degree malnutrition. Using refurbished playground equipment, donated by the Chicago Ridge Park District, KIDS was able to build for $50,000 a playground that would have cost $225,000 to $250,000 in the United States. Says Julie Rearick, the NE Satellite Director of Kids Around the World:
"My favorite part of a playground build was playing with the children. As we worked on building the play structure, the children always gathered around to watch. I took jump ropes and soccer balls along so I could play with them. By the time the playground was dedicated, I already knew a number of the children. There are no words to express the emotions I felt when those children scream with glee and laughter running towards the playground. I have grown to live by this quote: 'I do for one, what I wish I could do for all.' "