The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child tells us that children have the right to play. All children. Unfortunately, it is a right that is often undermined. This is especially the case for vulnerable children who are excluded or face barriers to play, like the children who live in the camps in Thailand. They may face barriers to play because of a lack of safe spaces, an impairment, or the attitudes of others. But children need play to help them learn, develop and reach their full potential. Without play they miss out on opportunities to develop important skills they will need later in life.
Play is learning and learning is play. This is what we believe in the Growing Together Project. We keep this important value in mind with the children’s and parent/caregivers’ clubs we’ve set up. In these clubs, we support adults and children to create safe, playful environments where children can take part in inclusive play and arts. Through play, they learn about inclusion, participation and protection.
We are also very proud of the inclusive playgrounds we are building. It’s magical to see a space with nothing turn into a place where all children can play—no matter who they are, where they come from, or what abilities they have. In our playgrounds, children can use their imaginations, explore their environment, make friends, go on a make-believe journey, and create stories, all together in the same space. These inclusive playgrounds are important because children do not have as much unstructured, imaginative play time as children once did. And this is something everyone benefits from, and something we hope to change.
When you come to Thailand, you will also be able to see how community volunteers, children and caregivers are inspired to make toys from low-cost recycled items. They then use these toys to make puppet shows that teach other children about their rights to protection, to be included, and to play. Children learn about important topics, such as how to stay safe, while practising their communication, listening and co-operation skills. These homemade puppets make these messages come alive for children in a way they can understand.
When you come to the Thai camps, I encourage you to come with an open mind and heart, and most important, come ready to play!