Some thoughts on international playwork

For any regular readers out there, it’s worth mentioning that during my slack times here (when I’m too busy reading novels and drinking tea to blog) you can find other interesting stuff on the Pop-Up Adventure Play blog here. I post there sometimes as well, though not nearly as often as Suzanna would like. It is a source of great information and thoughts – really far more than an ad for our little charity.

If you do head over there you’ll see that I’ve been particularly lucky in the travel department lately and have been to Bogota, Cairo and London, all in the name of play. Because of Pop-Ups, I’ve been talking with people doing playwork all around the world – they email and we provide a package of resources and some Skype time to help them through the process of creating a pop-up adventure playground in their neighborhood. Very often, as I talked about in my last post, the conversation begins with questions such as “the parents around here are all worried about their children getting muddy”, and “how can I explain that play is important, when people care more about test scores?”. This is pretty familiar ground for most of us.

Sometimes, however, that ground shifts beneath me. One organizer said that “now that the military has moved out the guerrilla fighters, people want to come out of their homes again. I think play might bring everyone together. Can you help me make this possible?” Unfunded as this project has been, who could turn down a request like that? It’s surely the absolute point of what we do, and has been one of the most educational experiences of my life. We look away from the problems we don’t know how to solve but wishing that children didn’t live in places of extraordinary poverty, of conflict and violence and continual uncertainty doesn’t change a thing. Instead, I am lucky enough to hear from brand-new playworkers on the front line of practice, teaching me about the ways in which play weaves between trauma and hope. Questions such as “you say that scrap is best for play, but in my village everything is used and the children are fed up with making dollies from leaves and scraping lines in the dust. What do you recommend?” have absolutely forced me to become a better playworker.

Next week I fly to Boston. I have a lot of family and friends there (all of whom are alarmed by recent tragedies, but fine). It turns out that we never know where our next place of violence and loss, of confusion may be. We all clutch our loved ones when we are scared.

As in the village where residents are finally safe to leave their homes, we all find that an impulse to play that rises up when the barriers fall. Eventually silliness sneaks back into our conversations, an unlikely visitor greeted at first with hesitation. No matter the trauma, our need to play has never gone away. Play is always moving in us, the world’s anima, like a whisper from ourselves that we hear echoed on the wind.

So, there are many pieces of news to share, from my travels and my time at home. Over the weekend was Play Fight at the South London Gallery, where a group of people from a variety of backgrounds talked about play and conflict. There’s also the super exciting launch of a project we at Pop-Ups have been working on for some time, and which directly feeds into my developing thinking about international playwork.

You’ll hear more about all this soon.  In the meantime, here is a picture of me terrified on top of a camel. Yes, I do know that these animals have terrible lives – if it helps, immediately after the photo was taken this same camel ate a Norwegian tourist. 

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