For most, childhood memories invariably include some playful activities with friends and neighbors, often in local parks and playgrounds. However, for some Kurdish children this sadly has not been the case. For those that survived the Anfal and found themselves displaced from their destroyed towns and villages, the little playful time afforded to them may have been in refugee camps or slums surrounding Slemani or Erbil.
As is often the case, Halabja illustrates the suffering that many Kurdish children have been through.With much rebuilding to be done, simple projects such as children’s playgrounds can fall down the list of things to do as more immediate projects for healthcare and infrastructure need to be completed.
‘Something for our children to do’
Tom Carrington, a British photographer, first travelled to Halabja in 1988 after the chemical bombings. The total devastation he witnessed stayed with him and after the fall of Saddam Hussein, he returned to photograph Halabja. When chatting to the people of Halabja, he was struck by the fact that when residents were asked what they would like to see in their town, most replied ‘something for our children to do’.
After returning from his trip, Carrington met with the British company ‘Design, Build and Play’ (DBP) who agreed to help him create a playground for Halabja.
Simon Ricks, of DBP, notes that their philosophy of including the children at each stage of the project, that is the design, the build and the play, enhances the experience for the children - encouraging team work, compromise and decision making.
Although the playground is designed by the children, Ricks points out that if aspects of their design do not conform to European health and safety standards, the design will be modified and the children consulted as this is done. Ricks then adds that child psychologists have identified 16 types of play all of which are considered vital to a child’s development and thus play can be regarded as both preventative and curing. The design of the playground is also monitored to ensure that it caters for all types of play.
DBP has helped children in under privileged areas of London and has been a success in encouraging good community relations. Some of the children who have been involved in the London projects have been Kurdish refugees.
Involving the children
The ethos of the project is to involve the children and in turn the wider community. Carrington is quick to point out that Halabja’s Mayor, Khider Karim - a member of the Mayors for Peace - has been highly supportive of the project.
“On behalf of Halabja, Mayor Khider donated a house, a piece of land and diggers, saying that it was Halabja’s donation to the project,” Carrington recounts.
“The reaction in Halabja has been fantastic, both the children and their parents are excited by and are proud of the project,” he adds.
Carrington has set up a charity to raise funds to meet the rest of the costs of the project. He has so far held events such as photo exhibitions and sales, he is confident that he will raise the necessary funds to complete the project soon. So far the foundations have been prepared for the playground to be built.
Importance of play time
Carrington describes the excitement of the children that they are not only getting a playground, but that they are being given an active role in the whole process. He highlights that play is important to a child’s mental health and general wellbeing, something that is even more important in towns such as Halabja.
Carrington’s fondness for Kurdistan and its people is evident in his enthusiasm for the project and his determination to see the project through.
“It is great to see the sense of pride in the children that the project encourages, they feel they are responsible for a part of their community and it is clear that they enjoy being actively engaged in the process of building something for themselves, their friends and the community at large,” he says.