In May 2014 the UK team were united together in Istanbul with Kdher Kareem, the Mayor of Halabja, Nariman Ali, the public relations officer and Warzer Muhamned, the playworker for the International Play Conference.
The team were delighted to be presenting the project to the International play community, and to link with academic and practitioners of play globally. The film of the last 5 years of the project was shown and the mayor of Halabja gave a heartfelt speech to the conference stressing the importance of play in positively transforming children’s lives in his community, translated to English by Jess Milne (see below)
The Halabja Community Play Project was then announced as the winner of the “Right to Play” International award, supporting access to play for children in crisis. The opportunity to connect Warzer and the Halabjan team with professionals and practitioners of play across the globe was invaluable.
The Mayor of Halbja’s Speech
Ladies and Gentlemen. First of all I would like to thank the IPA for inviting me to participate in this important conference. I am from Halabja city in Kurdistan Iraq were I work as the Mayor.
For those of you who may not have heard of Halabja let me tell you why it came to world attention 26 years ago.
On March the 16th 1988 Halabja was attacked by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in the final months of the Iran/ Iraq war. Using different kinds of illegal and banned chemical weapons they killed 5000 civilians and seriously wounded 10,000 more in one day.
Sixty per cent of the victims were children. Still today the effect of this infamous attack has left a wound on our society that has not healed. Every family lost one or more members to this brutal attack devastating our community and destroying the city.
Today the psychological effect of this brutal assault has been imprinted on the psyche of those who survived. That was 26 year ago. Our lives and the lives of our children are still suffering from the lasting harmful effects of the use of banned chemical weapons, birth defects, cancers, and a host of illness’s connected to this one criminal act blight our lives and the lives of our children not born at the time of the attack.
I have long been concerned about the wellbeing of the children of Halabja who bear this terrible legacy. I feel it my own personal duty to do all that I can to bring healing to our shattered community for our future generations.
I feel strongly that one way to help achieve this is through Play, to replace the trauma of the years of war and conflict. Play can offer a way to change the environment that children had no part in destroying, and are often excluded from rebuilding.
So in March 2008 on the 20th anniversary of the terrible massacre two men came to my office with a proposal. One was Kurdish the other was Scottish. They proposed that we work together to build a children’s playground in Halabja that would be a unique project. This playground would be designed and built by the children with the help of adults.
It would be the first Adventure Playground in Halabja and indeed all of Kurdistan Iraq. And so I agreed to support the project we now know as the Halabja Community Play Project.
The Municipality of Halabja granted the project the land to establish the play site on, and in 2009 a joint team of UK and Kurdish volunteers began the development of the project together with the children of Halabja city.
I have watched and supported the progress of the project for the past five years. The impact on the lives of the children who have helped build the play site has been tremendous. I often visit the playground and hear the excited cries of children’s laughter from many streets away. It makes me so happy to listen to the sound of our children’s happiness.
Empowering children to build a playground with their own hands is a special experience that will last a lifetime. To provide a place where children can play undirected by adults and let to build an environment in safety where they can make their own decisions about when and how they play is to grant them real freedom. I campaign endlessly for the abolition of weapons of mass destruction and an end to all wars from my home country of Kurdistan Iraq, and around the world through my role in the Mayors for Peace Organisation in Japan, and the Bureaux for Peace Organisation in Italy.
The right of the child is enshrined in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on Human rights. I will do everything in my power to en act it in my home city and promote it wherever I go.
The Halabja Community Play Project has gone a long way to making sure the children of Halabja are protected and respected. I am very proud of the achievements the children of Halabja have managed to complete through the project.
And it is with great pleasure and gratitude that I present the Halabja Community Play Project to the International Play Association.