Artists help refugee children to play

The non-governmental organisation, Art for the World, and around 30 artists and designers have joined forces to help refugee children to enjoy the right to play.

This content was published on September 30, 2000 - 14:44

This most fundamental right is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet it is denied to millions of children around the world.

The exhibition, Playgrounds and Toys for refugee Children, aims to highlight the right to play for all children, as well as provide playgrounds and educational toys for those living in refugee camps.

Around 30 artists, architects and designers have taken up the challenge to create these playgrounds and playthings. Their work is on show at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva until October 29.

Among them is the American artist, Joseph Kosuth: "It's more than just a practical thing. It's helping people whose lives have been shattered."

"It's a lovely Renaissance idea of using art to enrich people's lives," he told swissinfo.

One of the designs was chosen by a jury in Geneva to be produced and sent on behalf of canton Geneva and the Swiss Development Agency to several refugee camps chosen by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Children's Fund, Unicef.

The winning project was created by the British designer, Pip Horne, and her Iranian colleague, Shirazeh Houshiary. It consists of a kind of loose maze made of yellow fabric or plastic, hanging from rails.

Adelina von Fürstenberg, president of Art for the World, said the winning design fulfilled all the criteria set out.

"It is joyful and playful, but something you can physically touch. It exudes positive energy and is meant for collective play," she told swissinfo. After Geneva, this travelling exhibition will move on to Rome, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, where other designs will be selected for production.

Once the exhibition is over, Art for the World hopes to have produced and expedited at least three playgrounds, as well as 10,000 units of three educational toys.

Play has a crucial role in the development of a child. For refugee children, it is also an important way of keeping in touch with reality and coming to terms with what has happened to them.

"These children are in difficult circumstances. They are away from home, maybe even without their parents, traumatised by events they had no control over," says Hans Olsen, of Unicef's Geneva office.

"As well as being something all children should be able to do, play helps them to express themselves and talk about their experiences," he adds.

by Roy Probert

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