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Providing Informal Outdoor Playing Areas and Protecting Every Child Against Discrimination

Written by: Shadnaz Azizi, Global Schools Advocate from Iran

Editor: Dorpaima Lumban Gaol


In my recent urban-village development experience in the Kan locality of Tehran-Iran, there was a fundamental shift in thinking. This shift in thinking was about locality development: a new view in which children should be partners with urban developers in dreaming and designing a neighborhood with a choice of play-based activities to promote healthy personal development. As a Global Schools Advocate, my focus has been on strengthening the role of open spaces as an integrated part of children's growth, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, and nationality.

Photo: Shadnaz Azizi / Global Schools Program

Kan urban-village is one of the oldest localities of Tehran city, and it lacks outdoor playing areas for children. This locality is home to a large immigrant community and has a large population of Afghan children. However, in some cases, Iranian children have been told to stay away from them. Ignoring and excluding these immigrant children can make them feel like they don't belong to this locality.

My main question was: what could I do to achieve my goal of providing access to high-quality play experiences for children?

Responding simultaneously to SDG Target 10.2 and 11.7, we decided to plan and set up informal outdoor playing areas instead of having students play in specific parks. Parks provide a possibility of provoking excluding behaviors in parents. In this regard, we engaged both Iranian and Afghan children together in unstructured outdoor play areas by encouraging them to join us in a Children's Social Behavior Game. In this game, children used a locality map to find their informal, outdoor playing and socializing patterns and identify their needs. They selected proper vacant lands or open areas of land on the locality map.

We started with a large base map. We chose only the essential streets; we took the map alongside our facilitator team led by Negin Shahr from Nation of Human City NGO. Then we traveled to five sub-localities of Kan urban-village. It took ten weeks to gather most of the children in the streets and ask them to play the game with us. Children put all their perceptions of their neighborhoods on the map and talked about their needs and ideas to feel freer, safer, more independent from their parents, and more engaged with their environment. We also discussed finding new groups of friends, either Iranian or Afghan.

Photo: Shadnaz Azizi / Global Schools Program

We confronted challenges relating to urban zoning codes, compliance, and approval of our plan. A group of developers wanted to tear down most parts of the locality to build new buildings without paying any attention to the organic pattern of this urban village and the capacity of current infrastructure, which would impose more problems on the community. However, our efforts to protect children against discrimination led children to believe that they can speak out and claim their rights to the city.


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