In 2007 a BBC world service reporter who had been making a documentary in Togo recommended Africa Play and its director, Ouro Tchachedre, to the International Play Association. Following this, a relationship was established via email and phone with an exchange of information and some internet based research. IPA Scotland and colleagues sponsored Africa Play’s director to attend the IPA World Conference in Hong Kong 2008 where he generated much interest in his work supporting vulnerable children through providing safe play opportunities.
Following the conference, community members in Midlothian began fundraising to support a play project in a kindergarten in Togo and the PlayRight Scotland Trust established a partnership with Africa Play. The £4,600 raised included a £2,500 grant from the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland. Africa Play’s Children Smiling project, at Koulounde nursery in Sokode, aimed to:
• Create a children-friendly play environment.
• Support teachers and parents to learn about the importance of play for child development and wellbeing.
• Increase the capacity of teachers and carers to make sustainable play resources.
Throughout project implementation, the PlayRight Scotland Trust has worked within a framework document containing the aims, values and operational details of managing the partnership. The treasurer of the trust maintained communication with the director of Africa Play on the project finances and progress.
Early in the project, we established that Africa Play was interested in support from ideas and information, alongside the financial support, and the relationship developed on that basis.
Alongside regular email communication, and sending resources and links that may be useful to Africa Play, we began to make plans for representatives of the trust to visit the project in Togo. The trust’s secretary made the arrangements and liased with Africa
Play on this aspect of the project.
We raised a further £2,500 through sponsored events and challenges, enabling a team of two to visit the project in November 2009.
Children Smiling project activities
Africa Play completed activities to support each of the project aims and this was evident to the team that visited the project.
Teachers spoke of the training they had undertaken and showed the traditional toys they had made. Stories were shared of the study visits in which Africa Play board members participated to learn from other nurseries in Togo that had undertaken similar projects.
Several items of equipment were commissioned and constructed for the playground in 2009. At the time of the visit in November, these were available to see, but were held in storage. The school committee had decided that a wall around the playground was required before the equipment could be installed. This was to alleviate their concerns about vandalism or theft, but would also help to keep the playground free of animal droppings and litter (which blows in from the burning site just outside the school).
Development of the wall is now well underway and the first stage of playground development will be completed soon. Africa Play hope to be able to continue playground development and include home-made features, ideas for which were gained during the visit from The PlayRight Scotland Trust.
Benefits of the project
The grant from the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland enabled Africa Play to create a child friendly space and atmosphere for children at the Koulounde nursery. Prior to this intervention, children had limited resources for play and the playground in which children aged 3-5 spent their break-time was a barren, dusty, littered expanse. Due to the project, children will have a more attractive, safer environment in which to play, with increased shelter from the sun from the wall, and swings, a slide and a seesaw to play upon. Usually only the children whose parents have the financial means to access fee-paying nurseries are able to enjoy such items, therefore the installation of equipment in this poorer area also has great symbolic significance for the community.
Many hundreds of people came to a welcoming ceremony held for the visiting trust representatives, at which the new equipment was presented to the community by Africa Play.
The project was greatly supported by the visit from the trust, funded by further fundraising. The grant from the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland was a good springboard for this, as it enabled the partnership between the two organisations in the first place and gave us a stronger foundation from which to carry out further fundraising. We have learned that building in such a visit is an essential element in an international partnership. As well as the strengthened understanding and joint commitment we developed, we were able to offer our expertise to help address questions such as:
• How to site equipment to support the flow of children’s play and make best use of the space.
• How to develop features which particularly support imaginative, sensory and creative play.
• How to ensure there are enough features to support the play of the large number of children attending the nursery, for example, by developing a large sandpit.
We were able to build on the training that the teachers had received. We found that there were certain aspects of play that the teachers found difficult. For example:
• How to encourage children to play and explore.
• When and how to intervene in children’s play.
• How to support children’s playful interactions and communication.
We supported the teachers through carrying out some playwork alongside them and delivered some further training ourselves.
In turn, we gained insights into the cultures and communities of Togo and the visit was deeply thought provoking in terms of our understanding of play worldwide, and the mix of the biological and the cultural bases for play.
The grant created a capacity building experience for both partners in this project. Africa Play gained experience of developing and delivering a project within a community, bringing on board the support of local decision makers and liasing with all stakeholders.
They also learned about the practical factors to be addressed when developing a playground and gained an enriched understanding of children’s play needs.
Africa Play have grown their contact base within Togo and now have a team of craftspeople, a network of members, and the support of various decision makers, on which to draw.
The PlayRight Scotland Trust learned a great deal about how to manage and maintain an international partnership. We are now in a much stronger position to develop other similar projects and ‘hit the ground running’.
We gained much experience of fundraising, and the match funding we sought through donations and sponsorship has raised the profile of the trust and built a network of supporters, a terrific benefit for future similar projects.