Nemanja’s Dream Swing
This Dream Playground in Cicevac is, so far, the only inclusive playground in Serbia that was built as envisaged by children.
Cicevac, Serbia – The only playground in Cicevac rarely has any children playing in it. And children with disabilities often have a hard time walking across the uneven surface to reach the several dilapidated pieces of playground equipment. Nine-year-old Nemanja used to come here from time to time with his older brother and parents. On a swing, that was not suited to his needs, he would fantasize about his dream playground.
“I would like to play with my brother Veljko on a big swing and a seesaw”, Nemanja shared some of his dreams.„Students from the Faculty of Architecture came, and together with children and parents we had brainstorming sessions about how to make the best playground. We put forward several proposals to the public, which were designed by [architecture] students with the help of their professors. Together, we chose the project which best incorporated the children’s wishes”, explained Suzana Gajic-Jovanovic from the “Okular” Association
At the existing playground, he could ride a seesaw or go down the slide, but only with someone’s help, which meant he constantly needed his mom or dad by his side.
“When he was younger, we weren't coming to the park with Nemanja very often, for health-related reasons”, says the boy’s mom Sonja Paunicic. “We could now [that he is older], but I would like the equipment to be safe, so I could watch him play [on his own], without worrying that he might get hurt.”
With a deep sigh, Nemanja’s dad recalls that his son had his first foot surgery when he was a month and half old. Two more are ahead of him.
“Nemanja is trying to keep up with his older brother in every aspect, he loves playing football with him”, explains Dragan Paunicic, father to the two boys.
At art and literary workshops, which he attended with his friends from the Cicevac primary school, Nemanja voiced his wish for a safe swing. Teachers and staff from the Okular Association in Cicevac organized the workshops, hoping to hear from the children what their “dream playground” would look like.
Driven by the children's ideas, and in cooperation with UNICEF, they started building an inclusive playground in Cicevac, where all children can use all the playground equipment and can enjoy playing together.
The flat concrete surface makes it easy for everyone to move around, even in a wheelchair. The merry-go-round is also wheelchair friendly. The softer tartan surface is now under each piece of playground equipment. There are safe and low seesaws and spring rockers as well. The most challenging part of the inclusive playground project was the skate park, but in the end were able to make it happen.
In implementing all this, the Okular Association, parents and children received help from the Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities and the Faculty of Architecture from Belgrade.
„Students from the Faculty of Architecture came, and together with children and parents we had brainstorming sessions about how to make the best playground. We put forward several proposals to the public, which were designed by [architecture] students with the help of their professors. Together, we chose the project which best incorporated the children’s wishes”, explained Suzana Gajic-Jovanovic from the “Okular” Association.
Half a year later, Nemanja is in his dream swing. It’s big enough for him to share with his brother Veljko. He rode the seesaw and spun on the merry-go-round on his own. When asked what the new playground is like, he says with a huge smile that it’s – big.
Nemanja’s brother says that he played a music instrument for the first time in the park – a metallophone. Judging by their smiles, the merry-go-round is the favourite for all the children.
“The merry-go-round and the swing are the most interesting,” says twelve-year-old Veljko. “This playground is the best I’ve ever seen.”
Their mom is relieved. “I can just sit down and watch him enjoying himself. He can play with his brother without my help, just like all other children.”
This Dream Playground in Cicevac is, so far, the only inclusive playground in Serbia that was built as envisaged by children. It is safe and accessible to every child. The UNICEF project was implemented with financial support from the NCR Foundation, and in cooperation with the Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities of the City of Belgrade, the Cicevac municipality and the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade. This playground should become a model for building inclusive playgrounds in communities across Serbia.