I’m very honoured to show you, co-workers from IKEA Japan, the Growing Together project by Humanity & Inclusion (the new name for Humanity International) in Thailand. Growing Together creates opportunities to play and develop for vulnerable children in a displacement context—such as the Thai camps along the Myanmar border that you will visit. When you walk around the remote camps of Umpiem and Mae La, you’ll quickly notice that safe places to play are very rare, especially for vulnerable children (like out-of-school children and children with disabilities). Yet play is critical for kids to grow up happy, healthy and well-adjusted in the future. As a regional Inclusion and Accessibility Officer, it is my role to ensure that all aspects of the project focus on access to play for the most vulnerable children.
We have been working hard in Bangladesh and Pakistan on piloting inclusive and accessible playgrounds, and Thailand is the next stage. In expectation of the playground, we’ve been intensively organising parents’ clubs and children’s clubs. We’ve made significant progress in perhaps the most important task; advocacy amongst parents, teachers, leaders and communities in promoting the basic message that play is crucial for good quality development, which will set children up for their adult life.
Every time I see the impact of those children’s clubs, I’m really moved. A year ago, I met Sanda Aung, a young girl who is not attending school, at one of the clubs. I had contact with her again recently and, over time, she has indeed developed and grown in confidence. She has continued to attend the children’s club in Umpiem and has become an important member. She speaks confidently and takes on a leadership role amongst her peers. It’s so wonderful to see that, with exposure to creative and novel play experiences, children can thrive.
As a member of this IWitness trip, you will also have the privilege of hearing people share their personal stories of life in the camp. Also, you will get a sense of the life of a person with a disability in the camp and gain an insight into what it could be like to have an impairment in this context.
Oh, and more thing. Don’t forget to pack your creativity, because you will learn how to make low cost toys. Children create their own puppets using simple art and craft materials. This activity promotes all areas of a child’s development, for example their cognitive development; they have to plan and problem-solve how to make their puppet. We don’t give them a pattern to follow; they need to imagine an animal, person or character themselves and create it! So be prepared!