Helping Former Child-Soldiers Learn How to Play
At a very young age children learn that by dropping a toy, it will fall to the ground, and anyone who has interacted with a child of that age will tell you that it becomes a game – hand the child a toy, the child throws the toy on the floor, repeat.
Children use the medium of play to develop and learn well into their teenage years. But what if they have never had the chance to learn how to play?
Aid workers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) managed to help some of the children being used as soldiers to escape their captors and put them in full-time education so that they might be able to obtain the life a child their age should enjoy. But these children have only lived through the toils of war, and would often struggle to sleep through the night because of remembering what they had been through and worrying what the following day would bring, even though they were now in safety.
Bethany Frank, a 21-year-old product design student from Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, heard about these problems when asking aid workers what they thought was the most unfair aspect of the children’s lives. They said that without play the children were missing out on one of the most essential phases of recovery – the problem was, they just didn’t know how to play on their own, let alone with each other.
Bethany decided she wanted to do something for the children and set it upon herself to create a special toy for them. With the children helping to design the shape, Bethany came up with the concept of the PlayGarden, a toy that encourages the children to use their imagination and turn it into anything they wish it to be.
The PlayGarden consists of a set of colourful drums that can be stacked, rolled, stood on, used as a musical instrument, or used in sports games. “Spatial awareness games have been shown to dramatically reduce flashbacks in post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers, and that all influenced my design,” explained Bethany.
Justice Rising, a charity that aims to help people who have been through the conflict of war, took the PlayGarden to DR Congo to see how it would hit off with the children there.
Lisa Hall is part of the charity’s team in DR Congo, and witnessed the children using the toys for the first time. “At first they looked confused,” she said, “then one after another, the children began beating the cylinders like drums – something they know.” She explained that after her colleagues had shown the children that they could jump up and down on the cylinders and jump from one drum to another, it wasn’t long before the children started copying them. “Then one started rolling a cylinder and others ran around them,” Lisa said. “The next hour and a half we watched with joy as they began to learn to play.”
Thanks to Bethany’s PlayGarden, these children are learning to experience life the way children their age should be able to – carefree and full of laughter.
Image source: Edinburgh Napier University website