Toys that help child soldiers forget war horrors

A STUDENT has designed a toy which is being used to help former child soldiers recover from the trauma of serving with brutal militias in Africa.

Toys designed to help children recover from the trauma of serving with brutal militias in Africa. Picture: Contributed
Toys designed to help children recover from the trauma of serving with brutal militias in Africa. Picture: Contributed

Bethany Frank’s PlayGarden, a simple collection of cylinders, is helping children in the Congo learn to play again.

The Edinburgh NapierUniversity student, 21, produced the toy which encourageschildren to improvise and use their imagination.

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The “drums” can stacked, used as musical instruments or be included in sporting games to allow the children to learn to play together.

The PlayGarden is now being used by the charity JusticeRising, who trialled it in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Miss Frank said she came up with the idea after visiting the Congo last summer and asking aid workers what they felt the biggest injustices were to the children.

She said: “They said to me it was the fact that the children struggled to make it through the night because they kept reliving what they had been through and were worried about the next day.”

The aid workers had helped the children escape theircaptors and got them into full-time education, but said that without play they were missing out on an essential phase of recovery while learning to interact with one another.

When she returned home, Miss Frank, who was due toproduce a major design project in her fourth year, began thinking how she could use herdesign skills to help.

She was put in touch with a trauma therapist in London and discussed what sort of play would be beneficial for thechildren.

She said: “The DR Congo is an active war zone so I was interested in how a safe haven could be created for young people whose childhoods had been taken from them – who fall asleep to the sound of gunshots in the air.

“My research showed that play was so important to the process of making people feel safe.”

She added: “Spatial awareness games have also been shown to dramatically reduce flashbacks in post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers, and that all influenced my design.”

The PlayGarden idea is being used by both nursery children and older former child soldiers up to the age of 14.

Miss Frank said that when the play system arrived she was keen to hear what the children’s reaction had been.

“I was told the aid workers left the children in a field with the drums and when they came back they were having amassive party with them. Other ones were rolling them around, jumping over them and laughing.”

Lisa Hall, a Scot working with the Justice Rising team in DR Congo, praised thePlayGarden’s design. She said: “At first they looked confused – then one after another thechildren began beating thecylinders like drums, something they know.

“My colleagues demonstrated jumping from one to another and the children copied. Then one started rolling a cylinder and others ran around them.

“The next hour and a half we watched with joy as they began to learn to play.”

Miss Frank said she tested the PlayGarden which cost around £40 to produce, in a nursery in Glasgow.

The drums have icons painted on them representing various jobs the youngsters might want to aim for in the future.

She now intends looking into a long-term project of using PVC pipe off-cuts from the oilindustry to expand the playsystem.