When Saranda Bogujevci was 13, her town of Podujeva, Kosovo was attacked by a Serbian paramilitary group. She lost her mother, her two younger brothers, her grandmother, an aunt and a cousin. Saranda herself barely survived, and later had 16 bullets removed from her body.
With the help of Manchester Aid to Kosovo (MAK), she was relocated to the UK, where she received extensive medical treatment.Years later, on a return visit to Podujeva, she and other refugee children had the idea of building a park there. They felt that their recovery in Manchester had been aided by the peace and beauty of its public green spaces, and that a park could help heal the lingering aftereffects of the traumas suffered in their hometown. That’s how the Manchester Peace Park was born.
(Left) Before the Manchester Peace Park. (Right) Saranda, left, at the dedication of the Peace Park in 2009.
Now Saranda (pictured above), MAK, and several community groups are working with Wild Zones, a U.S.-based organization, to co-create a new form of public space dedicated to unstructured free play in nature. A Wild Zone is not your traditional playground. Rather than offering static structures for children to play on, a Wild Zone offers natural elements for children—and adults!—to interact and play with. For instance, a child can build a den, make a pathway, mess around with mud, or create a sculpture. Unlike most parks and nature reserves, Wild Zones offer opportunities to alter the environment, rather than leaving it untouched.
Saranda says, “The children in the town like to be outside but they have never played creatively in nature in these ways. Their lives are still hard because of the war and they are so happy when they can try something new.”
In the United States, many government officials wrongly consider parks to be a luxury. Saranda and others show us just how vital it is for a community to have a safe, natural space to gather and play.
Want to help Saranda and her community create their Wild Zone? MAK and Wild Zones are actively seeking donations to make this possible. It doesn’t take much to bring joy to children still suffering from the effects of war. For:
*MAK is an English non-profit so the donations are made in pounds (£).