22 June 2022

How much of a difference can play make in a child’s life? That is the question the Thari Programme is answering successfully with its Safe Park in Botshabelo township in the Free State.

Thari is a pilot programme of Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation that is implemented by its partner entity, Adopt-a-School. The programme aims to strengthen the school community by creating a safe and empowering environment that is free from violence, inclusive, gender sensitive and that promotes health and well-being. In addition to the provision of psychosocial support services through the services of Child and Youth Care Workers, the programme provides a therapeutic space for vulnerable children and an a safe after-care facility through a well-resourced Safe Park. The programme is implemented with the support of the community-based Botshabelo Moral Regeneration Forum.

Learning through play is an important part of a child’s development. According to UNICEF, “research shows that playing supports many interrelated facets of development including cognitive, physical, social, emotional and language development in young children, setting the foundation on which new learning builds throughout a child’s life.”

Play allows children to explore their creativity while exercising dexterity. It promotes physical development by challenging their gross and fine motor skills. Children are also able to use their agency and control over the play experience, thereby learning important decision-making skills along with self-awareness.

Thari’s Safe Park model was first introduced in 2017 as a second pillar of the Thari Programme. It was set up at Reentseng Primary School in Botshabelo as a pilot. This is a safepace where children can feel protected, nurtured and where they have access to homework supervision groups along with extracurricular activities. The park equipment is designed to enhance gross and fine motor skills along with core strength for children. To expand play-based learning even further, children are afforded the opportunity to gain experience to play chess, scrabble, enjoy storytelling and take part in indigenous games. Trained Child and Youth Care Workers supervise play in the Safe Park during school breaks as well as after school.

Bernice Maponyane, the Programme Manager at Adopt-a-School, says: “Childhood is meant to be a carefree time for curiosity, exploration and laughter. The reality is many children don’t get to experience that daily and often must face situations that would be taxing to even full-grown adults. In the Safe Park, children can be children. They are safe, cared for and they’re learning while having fun.”

It is at the Safe Park that the Child and Youth Care Workers are often able to observe children experiencing emotional difficulties. The collaboration with the Botshabelo Moral Regeneration Forum that consists of service providers from government departments and local NGOs has enabled professionals and other active community members to engage with children at the Safe Park and facilitate awareness campaigns on child abuse, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, Gender-Based Violence and other challenges that affect children’s learning abilities.

“The Thari Programme has reached out to over 900 children through psychosocial support services, and over 5 000 through Safe Park activities at eight schools since its inception in 2017. The aim of the pilot was to experience how the school communities would respond to the programme, forge collaboration to address daily challenges that children are faced with, and explore the potential of the programme to be replicated and scaled up as an evidence-based model.” says Maponyane

“The Safe Park model was a very different approach, but it has proved that play is at the heart of child development and, by using that as our focus, we are able to nurture and support the children more effectively and then take steps to address the issues at home.”

Thari hopes to be able to create more Safe Parks and offer training for more Child and Youth Care Workers. The Safe Park model is a relatively cost-effective, community-based intervention that upholds children’s rights as enshrined in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, to “…afford them the necessary protection and assistance…for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality…in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.”