|Play space: Children play at a free playground on Cu Lao Cham Island recently built by the group Think Playgrounds. — Photo Courtesy of Thinkplaygrounds
by Bach Lien
A group of children play cheerfully at the Red River middle bank in Ha Noi. Their laughter resounds among the immense maize and banana crops.
At first sight, the 100sq.m playground is no different than others: it is made up of traditional games, including see-saw, swing, hanging bars, and others.
But what makes it special is it was built free of charge and those games are made of recycled and used materials.
It was built in May 2014 by the group Thinkplaygrounds, made up of 6 volunteer members.
Old tyres, ropes, planks, and other items... the things that don't have much utility anymore, are used by the group to create free playgrounds for children living in city centres of Viet Nam.
Group members are painters, architects, and filmmakers, who spend their weekends working on the playgrounds with local community members.
As of May, the group had built seven playgrounds for children throughout the country, five in Ha Noi and one in Ly Son Island (Quang Ngai Province), and one in Cu Lao Cham Island (Quang Nam Province).
The idea came to the group when they noticed the lack of playgrounds in large cities such as Ha Noi.
"Many public playgrounds have disappeared in crowded cities. Many children in inner city areas are unable to find space to play on sidewalks or on the streets. Together with the city's rapid urbanisation and development, many green parks have been replaced with paid amusement parks," said Nguyen Quoc Dat, a group's architect.
"We've also seen that most of the children's games in these parks are only for pure entertainment, with almost no space given for active recreational areas where children can slide, swing, or climb," said Dat.
Chu Kim Duc, another member, says she is concerned when seeing how parents in Ha Noi and other big cities in Viet Nam only want children to be properly fed and work well at school, while not encouraging their children to play and exercise.
This is why the idea of open air playgrounds can help children to have a place to exercise, while still being environmentally friendly.
During seven months of building free playgrounds nationwide, the group's project has received the support of local people.
The project attracts the participation of the local communities, members of the project, Vietnamese and international volunteers.
Together, they work on building the playgrounds. The money is raised by the local communities. The recycled materials used to build the playgrounds are also often found locally.
"I often bring my children here to play, at the middle bank of the Red River. I want my son to have good memories of his childhood. Instead of staying in the same place to draw, paint or fish, here he can run, exercise and be nearer to the nature," said Nguyen Van Tam, a local resident.
Being able to bring a small change to Ha Noi and other communities, and offer a little bit of fun for the children, while developing connections with people, groups and partners, brings happiness to the group's members.
However, the group has been confronted by some difficulties in finding land to build the playgrounds and convincing local authorities to reserve areas to build playgrounds for children.
"We have called online communities and friends to send us information about unoccupied lands where children often play.
"We also have to convince the communities to reserve those areas for children, because public area are often used for adults and older people, and not for the children," Dat said.
The group hopes that people can fully understand that playgrounds are one of the greatest benefits to be offered to urban children, and that in the near future, local communities will develop ideas and time for children.
"Public playgrounds will allow our children to interact with other kids, let parents meet other parents, and help the future generations grow stronger and more confident," he said. — VNS