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A place of healing

  • Published at 11:59 pm February 7th, 2019
They need affection and care too
They need affection and care too / MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Can we provide safe spaces for Rohingya children?

One thing that’s certain about children is play. Even in the direst of situations, children will find just about anything to play with.

In the cramped spaces of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis right within our own borders, little children carry with themselves harrowing tales of violence and loss. Their trauma is unthinkable, but resilience is children’s feat. Could play help them recover?

With this question in mind, something beautiful was built. 

This week, BRAC Institute of Educational Development held a Play Summit at Savar. The two-day event’s focus was to launch the Humanitarian Play Lab model, which aims to provide children in the Rohingya camps a space of protection, care, and lots of play. The event covered topics ranging from the effects of spaces and materials, to the humanitarian response for children in the camps. 

With a visionary investment by the LEGO Foundation and the Sesame Workshop, the model has been in the works for a year now, and has been designed by incorporating the Rohingya culture into its curriculum. 

And it began by asking the children one question: What did they like doing in Myanmar?

Dolls and cooking sets are loved by the children, so is hands-on physical play. Up the kids went on each other’s backs and shoulders and made human pyramids, and so it went on the curriculum. 

Children were heard reciting kabbiyas -- traditional Rohingya rhymes -- and the facilitators were taught the words. By none other than the children themselves. 

Present at the event were experts in the field of psychology, architecture, early childhood development, and many more. Day one of the event focused on how space affects us, and especially children, and in what ways the architects of the model envisioned such a space for children who have been exposed to trauma. 

At the end of the first day, the takeaway was simple: For play-based learning, as well as play-based healing, physical space holds an extremely important role. 

For example, a well-lit and well ventilated place allows children to be energized and be eager to learn. A room that is full of colour can be inviting -- and inspire creativity. Culturally significant decorations can give children a sense of ownership. 

And this is easily seen in the children who have attended the play labs already in place elsewhere: They comfortably sprawl their little bodies across the floor while they draw with unbreakable concentration.

On the second day of the summit, the BRAC IED team revealed their own discoveries throughout the journey of building the model. And a journey it has been -- from meeting children with hollow eyes and harrowing tales, to the excitement of the kids’ giggles as they entered the Humanitarian Play Labs a year down the line. 

Children in disadvantaged circumstances are not unlike the ones who grow up in privilege. 

Their need for affection and care stands just as true across the world. And for those who have been displaced and have experienced trauma in the scale that the Rohingya refugees have, the effect of play is stronger than ever. 

Play is a fundamental tool in the growth of young children. Providing the Rohingya children safe spaces was a fundamental step for them to flourish as individuals, and enhance their cognitive, social, physical, and emotional development. But more importantly, they are places of healing. 

Luba Khalili is Deputy Manager, Communications, BRAC.

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