where it started


IMG_2683 The  projectWhere it started:

In March 2008, while photo documenting the 20th anniversary of the Halabja massacre and chemical bombardment for the Kurdish Human Rights Project, Tom Carrigan spent two weeks living with the family of Nariman Ali Mohammad.  Nariman Ali is a local community representative and Deputy Director of the Halabja memorial monument who acted as guide and translator. He introduced Tom to local families and teachers, and the first discussions of the need for a creative and safe area for the kids in Halabja to play began. Children growing up in Halabja since the end of the war live under much social and environmental pressure. School and family life can be restrictive and repressive for some children, and often physically violent. Although the fighting has ceased, the town is undergoing reconstruction and development that replaces open spaces with increased traffic and hazardous building sites. Many children work full or part time in the market place and family businesses and these additional pressures restrict a freely chosen creative play life.

After many meetings with the Mayor of the city Mr Khder Kareem, the Halabja Urban Planning Department designated a site for the project in one of the areas of the town most lacking in amenities.

A subsequent visit in November 2008 reinforced links with the community and the director and staff of the Mordana Mixed Primary school, adjacent to the site. It was agreed that the newly formed Halabja Community Play Project would work together with the school and the wider community on the design and development of the playground on the next visit

In March of 2009 a small team returned to Halabja with the aim of establishing the site and working intensively with the children of the district. They ran daily play sessions on the designated plot of land in conjunction with local translators and volunteer play workers devised a program running for 3 weeks. The purpose was to get to know the children and for them to claim ownership of the land with play.

A wide range of activities were provided each day for the children to freely choose to engage in, from painting and drawing; circus skills; costume and hat making; face-painting; origami; tug-‘o-war; parachute games; skipping; hula hooping and anything else that could be improvised with the limited materials available. The sessions were attended by up to 60 children a day, and culminated in a party they organised for “Newroz” the Kurdish New year celebrations for which they built a fire, played traditional games and sang and danced.

By living and working in the community we experienced first the curiosity, then trust of many of the families, as well as great enthusiasm from individuals keen to volunteer and train as playworkers to run the site in the future. Subsequent visits from the UK team in 2010 and 2011 demarcated the site with a boundary wall, built a store room for the play equipment and constructed the large swing frames and play mounds. Check out our videos and photos to see the progress so far.