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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Healing through play

When the 386 children registered at Lutheran World Federation-run schools at Yusuf Batil camp finish classes, out come the volleyballs, skipping ropes, hula-hoops, badminton sets and other games. Now the fun begins.

Many of the 186 boys play soccer, while many of the 200 girls jump rope. As the late afternoon sun sinks, one or two adults lead the children in song and action games.

It may look spontaneous, but this is a deliberately designed "child-friendly space." After violence, diseases like malaria and separation from their families, simple games can help restore happiness and bring children closer to a normal life.

Establishing safe play areas helps protect, nurture and educate children informally. It's also an entry point to aid. Emergencies disrupt children's routines, services and support, reducing people's ability to care for their own, said Igga Idraku Pasteur, an LWF child protection officer in Yusuf Batil.

The LWF involves parents, grandparents, religious leaders, women's groups and youth groups in child-friendly spaces. So while the children play, women and men from the communities supervise. They have the support of community-led child protection committees, and they know their responsibilities, the principles of children's rights and the concept behind kid-friendly spaces.

When children from different backgrounds play together, it helps heal emotional wounds and build conflict resolution skills, Pasteur said.

As the sun sets, the games finish for the day. Children head home tired but happy. For a moment at least, their troubles have melted away.


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