Children have a right to be children – to play and to dream. This is understood so universally that Article 31of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all ratifying countries to;
- “Recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure,
- Engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and …
- Participate freely in cultural life and the arts”.
But in South Africa, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has forced many children to take on adult responsibilities. They care for dying parents, look after younger siblings, learn to cook and clean. Play – so vital for healthy child development – is compromised as children become parents to younger siblings. The Safe Park concept seeks to remedy this reality for children by providing them with the time and the place to play – within the protective circle of trained child and youth care workers.
The Safe Park Model
The National Association of Child Care Workers has developed the Safe Park model currently being replicated across South Africa by over 20 organisations. Safe Parks provide exactly this – safe places for children to play where they have access to adult supervision and can play in peace and safety. Especially important for children heading households, the model is implemented by oganisations in a formal way where land is allocated by local authorities and equipment is in place. But the model is also implemented informally where and resources are scarce. The key ingredient for the success of the model is the nurturing and exciting presence of child and youth care workers! Children like to play where adults are! They also like to play with adults, and get involved in structured activities. The Safe Park model offers the possibility of wholesome fun in the context of desperate lives – an essential ingredient for overcoming hardship.
Programs and Activities Run in Safe Parks Include:
- Sports clubs and organized sports and games which channel children’s energy into constructive group activities.
- Reclaiming traditional cultural activities and practices including indigenous games, cultural dance and song – and storytelling by elders.
- Homework supervision and tuition for groups or individual children.
- Respite for children heading households as child and youth care workers care for the little ones.
- Group and individual discussions on teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS.
- Toy libraries.
- Life Center Programs where adolescents engage with societal issues affecting them, and build their strength and capacity to make positive choices in life.
- Food security programs, including community food gardens where children learn gardening skills, as well as feeding schemes.
- Holiday programs for engaging children throughout long school holidays.
- Commemoration of public holidays.
Most importantly, the Safe Park is a place where the community embraces its members, countering the stigma that plagues children and families affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. A Safe Park is a wonderful place of healing, support, and belonging.