What is “Safe Parks”?
“Safe Parks” is a program free and open to all children in the community andaddresses some of the challenges (mental and physical) faced by children living in the Matero compound in Lusaka, Zambia. This program provides the children with an opportunity for safe play, and psycho-social support in an environment which facilitates activities, discussions, and educational lessons. In addition, homework help is provided.
A Typical Day at Safe Park: The children begin the day by singing and dancing - an ice breaker activity that helps their interaction with friends, and make new ones. This ice breaker is especially important for first time participants in the program. The trained CYCWs (Child and Youth Care Workers) assess individual needs as the children sing, dance and interact. The children are then separated into different groups based on age. Each group, supervised by a trained child and youth care worker, participates in age appropriate activities/discussions. During these sessions, child care workers discuss diverse issues important to the children, for example, overall health, HIV prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, cleanliness/hygiene, and the importance of adherence to medication and staying in school. In addition, homework help is provided to children who need it. Some children bring their books to Safe Park so that they can complete schoolwork with other children in the same grade and with our child care workers. Finally, a snack is provided as many children come to Safe Park without a meal.
Impact: Safe Park activities have several beneficial outcomes. First, children who have been living with HIV for a few years become role models for other children as they share experiences and underscore the importance of sticking to the medication regimen and even going in for appointments on their own. Second, school performance of many children has improved as a result of homework help and healthy interaction with other children. A few children have proudly displayed their grade cards to our child care workers. For example, 19 out of the 20 children who wrote their grade seven exams were promoted to grade eight. Similarly, nine out of the 10 children who wrote the grade nine exams were promoted to the next grade. Third, Safe Park activities like reading aloud, drawing and coloring encourage early childhood learning among the younger children.
Safe Park activities benefit adults too by helping them understand the importance of keeping children in school, HIV testing, and antenatal visits for expecting moms (to prevent HIV infections in new born babies). Expecting moms who are HIV positive are counselled on prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and are referred to an ante-natal clinic.
Beneficiaries: The direct beneficiaries of this program are about 75-80 children and families who participate each week. A total of about 700 children are enrolled.
To sum, Safe Parks has gone a long way in helping children from the community of Matero, interact better with peers, families, and teachers at school, and express their thoughts and feelings. Children who attend Safe Park regularly, tend to have more friends, get into fewer fights, and are able to disclose cases of abuse at home to the child care worker. Our child care workers can then refer the case to the right counselor/agency.
Next Steps: A few older children who have graduated from high school have been mentoring the younger children by sharing their experiences, and helping with school work. We hope to make the mentoring component a permanent feature of this program.
Need for Funds: At this time we are raising funds to rent a bigger play area, and to provide a nutritious snack for the children every week. Please donate generously as every little bit counts and goes a long way in helping these children play and learn in a safe environment.
Thanks for your caring and support.