The Power of Play

By Saeed Otufat-Shamsi on Aug 1, 2017

Originally published in the WFCF Newsletter, Vol. 11, No. 2, August 2017

In a beautiful fall afternoon in an affluent neighborhood of West Vancouver where the typical conversations are around business transactions, luxury houses and cars, and lavish trips, I met with a young couple that had a very specific concern. Sohnia and Reza were concerned that all the kids around the world should be able to play, and,

“Let Kids be Kids.”

The young couple were energetic, lively, and enthusiastic. They were about to leave their comfortable life in a peaceful and beautiful mountainous city of Squmish near West Vancouver to start an adventurous journey: to build as many playgrounds as possible for as many kids as possible to let them play, let them be kids!

Reza and Sohnia explained to me that they both felt a strong urge to do something meaningful with their lives– something that would make the world a better place. They came to realize that of all the suffering that takes place in the world, the suffering of children is the absolute worst of it. Children are the seeds of our planet. We must raise a generation of children that have known happiness, play and love, for one day these humans will be the ones taking charge of our world.

They founded The Power of Play foundation with the vision of a world in which all children have access to free play so that they may learn, grow and thrive in their youth to reach their full potential as adults. The mission of “The Power of Play” is to build playgrounds for children in developing countries that are in need of a space to play. Play has an important role in the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of all children, and every child deserves a playful childhood. The not-for-profit organization strives to create safe, fun and innovative space where kids can learn, play, grow, and just be themselves!

Since starting their journey in 2016, Reza and Sohnia have built a total of 11 playgrounds. Currently, they are in India where they have teamed up with 2 other organizations to build an additional 50 playgrounds across the entire country! Their effort in India has been focused on low-income government schools, where many of the children who attend are simply there for the daily meal that is provided by the school.

“That was the first time the entire camp got filled with the children’s laughter, play and joy.”

The first playground was built for a group of South Sudanese orphans that were living as refugees in Northern Uganda. This war-torn country is full of refugee camps and according to the UN report more than two million people have fled the country.

The situation is so dreadful that thousands of orphans, many of them less than six years old, have witnessed their parents and siblings being slaughtered. Many who flee are attacked on the road and killed, robbed, or raped. In South Sudan’s war, children bear the brunt. Based on a UNICEF report from Uganda, all refugee children, but especially orphans who have witnessed their parents being killed, carry deep psychological wounds. The post trauma disorder is so severe that many of these children have stopped talking or socializing with others. Both WFCF and Power of Play organizations are striving to extend helping hands to this unfortunate group of genocide survivor children that are orphaned and are either physically or mentally incapacitated. In one of my recent correspondences, I asked Reza what has been their main challenges thus far? He wrote to me that they encountered many challenges while trying to build the first playground in the refugee settlement. Since there were thousands of refugees coming to the area on a daily basis, there was a shortage of just about everything. In order to build the playground, they had to source materials from villages and towns that were quite a distance away.

When I asked Sohnia what the most memorable moment in their journey was, she said: “There have been countless memorable moments on this journey, but I think the one that stands out the most was the day we finished the very first playground for the group of orphaned refugees from South Sudan. That was the first time the entire camp got filled with the children’s laughter, play and joy. In that moment we knew beyond any doubts, that both of us were exactly where we were meant to be and that we would continue with our mission for the rest of our lives.”

Reza and Sohnia hope that the readers of WFCF Newsletter feel inspired to bring about positive changes in their own lives as well as in their communities. They are hoping that more individuals and organizations alike, will get involved with the missions of WFCF and Power of Play to provide support and care to the orphaned children that are living with physical or mental disability.

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