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At a glance: Haiti

Evaluating the impact of P.L.A.Y. in Haiti

A UNICEF programme that features portable playgrounds hopes to heal emotional wounds from natural and conflict disasters.


By Michelle Marrion

The end of a school year provides an opportunity to carry out evaluation of a pilot playground programme in Haiti that has proven popular among students and teachers, alike.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 7 October 2013 – “Listen! And repeat!” I hear a teacher call out as I stand in the yard of the national school in Furcy. The voices of chanting elementary school students echo from the glassless windows of the earthquake-damaged buildings. This style of teaching is a time-honoured way children learn in Haiti.

The teacher announces that it’s playtime. Contrary to some traditional thinking about learning and development in Haiti, the learning will, in fact, continue, as the children play.

The impact of P.L.A.Y.

With a US$1 million founding grant from Disney, UNICEF launched a pilot programme that used playgrounds to help foster creativity and healthy development for children affected by disaster and emergencies. The P.L.A.Y. project featured portable playground units designed by architect David Rockwell. These playgrounds were placed in schools in Haiti and in child-friendly spaces in Bangladesh at the start of the 2012 school year.

© UNICEF Haiti/2013/Marrion
Children play with the mobile playground at a public school in Furcy, Haiti, as part of UNICEF's P.L.A.Y. initiative. According to evaluators, playing with the blocks seems to have a profound effect on the children's social and psychological development.

The school year in Haiti came to a close at the end of June, and evaluators are now assessing the impact of the UNICEF P.L.A.Y. Project on the community.

“How do you take care of children’s development in very difficult circumstances?” asks Dr. Cassie Landers from Columbia University’s School of Public Health, who is one of the evaluators of the pilot programme. “We thought the playground would be an innovative response to this very challenging problem.”

The first task of the evaluation team was compiling data through interviews with teachers, parents, community members and the children, themselves, to see how children were responding to the block-style playground. To assist in this process, local humanitarian organization Tipa Tipa was the monitoring partner on the ground in Haiti.

Watch and learn

Observation was a key tool in the evaluation process. Case studies of children were formulated on the basis of observation over the course of a year. The observation process included documenting the children on video to look at their play patterns.

During field visits, evaluators looked at key indicating factors such as language ability, confidence, self-esteem, style of play, interaction with other children and interaction with adults.

Beatrice Joseph, a teacher at the Furcy school, recalls, “I had a student…who did not respond when you called his name…[N]o matter what we did, he would not talk. After we introduced the playground, the first person to respond positively was him.

“[H]e talks now, and if you give him a piece of paper, he’ll draw what he just created and make up a story around it.”

© UNICEF Haiti/2013/Marrion
Evaluator Dr. Cassie Landers films children playing with a mobile playground as part of UNICEF's P.L.A.Y. initiative at Kindergarten Mikaline in the Bois Verna area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Preliminary results of the evaluation show that the playground is a versatile resource for children and teachers, alike. Each component of the playground, which is transported and kept in a mobile, climate-friendly box, can be used as a practical learning tool in the classroom. Geometry, colours and shapes are just a few of the subjects that can be explored. Some teachers have reported finding the playground blocks helpful because they have few, if any, teaching tools in their classrooms.

Social skills, life skills

Playing with the blocks seems to have a profound effect on the children’s social and psychological development. Free play has helped them deal with emotions, as playing with the blocks creates opportunities for dramatic play. Indeed, Andre Hercule, director of the public school in Darbonne, notes, “We saw the impact of the 2010 earthquake in our students’ response to the blocks. Everything they created had something to do with the earthquake. They built a lot of houses.”

Social skills are another important benefit. What does 6-year-old Angelo do when someone wants to play with a block he’s playing with? “I give it them and I go get another one,” he says. Angelo has learned a lesson in conflict resolution.

Evelyne Margron, educator and project coordinator, says, “It’s almost like a therapy…[I]n the beginning, they were very aggressive – they fought over the blocks – but we’ve observed that one of the most evident results is that they’ve learned that, in order to create something meaningful, you have to put your assets together.”

According to Dr. Landers, “A great deal of feedback was obtained during the evaluation process, and the next step is to analyse this data to see how the playground can be useful in childhood development not only in Haiti and Bangladesh, but in other countries, as well.”



UNICEF Photography: Daily life - Play

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