In 1996 I was confronted with a question that can still be relevant today:
How can a community ensure that more children like to go to school in their village?
Together with teachers and leaders of the community I tried to find and answer, this is what they told me:
“The classrooms are becoming emptier and emptier. More and more kids of the village are skipping school. We as parents and teachers want them to go to school. The kids leave in the morning, some of them have to walk 5 kilometres. There is so much to see on the way to school and school is boring, so some of them never reach the school. Why walk all the way?”
Something had to change, but what?
First we thought of making the lessons more fun. But the teachers already did that. They went out to the forest for nature lessons, played games during mathematics and had writing contests. But that was not enough to capture their attention, so we had to look further.
Then we thought of rewarding kids when they attended school. It was a solution that would probably work, but it was an expensive idea and it wasn’t a permanent solution.
Then one of the parents, a farmer, came up with an idea:
Building a playground
In the city he’d seen a playground for kids with a swing a slide and a seesaw. It was a special place just for kids! He realized that in his own village there were no things only for kids. When he told his kids about the playground, they all wanted to join him the next time to play on the playground themselves. But going to the city with the kids was impossible, building a playground in the village was not! And maybe, having a cool school playground would motivate the kids to walk all the way to school. And if they’re already at the school, attending classes is a but a small step away.
And so, we did. The village had enough wood, an enough people who could work with it. Most importantly: the kids where ecstatic.
Designing a playground together
First we started with the design. What did the children want? But there was a problem: the children had never seen a real playground, so they couldn’t come up with many ideas. Some of the parents though, knew playgrounds and they took the lead in designing the playground.
That is when I learned my first lesson:
A playground is not only a kids thing. A playground is a community thing! It is a place where children and adults meet each other and play together. If you build a playground make sure it is a community playground. Involve everybody in the community, parents, kids, teachers and other residents.
The parents and teachers shared the ideas with the kids and together they made up their wish list:
Community playground wish list:
- Two swings so you can swing together
- Two slides so you can slide together
- Slides big enough for adults so they can slide as well
- A place to hide and sit and chat
- A seesaw
And it worked.
A friend made the design and we found some extra funding. And the community constructed the playground with beautiful wood from the community forest. We opened the playground in the first week of the new school year, February 1997 with a big party for everyone.