“Play energizes and enlivens is. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.” –Stuart Brown
Vial is home to around 400 children, making up 30% of the refugee camp’s population. The importance of facilitating play for them is not to be underestimated. For many, the innocence of childhood was unfortunately taken at a young age. Children in the camp have been exposed to trauma in their own countries and during the long journey to reach Greece. Living in Vial means an unpredictable and inconsistent access to school, food, friends, family and very importantly, fun. In response to this, CESRT runs Vial Games four times a week. The program injects an endless stream of energy and enthusiasm into the days of the children and their parents alike. It provides a moment of escapism in an otherwise sobering day.
We often first encounter children at the landings, so when we see them later outside the camp they are excited to see a familiar face in a happy environment. As the weeks progress we notice a positive change in their behaviour. The Games bring structure to their often chaotic lives and this helps them to feel safe and calm; core to the mission of Vial Games is the provision of a dependable safe space. In it, the children are encouraged to develop friendships, practice teamwork and expand their capacity to trust and communicate openly.
Play has a positive effect on a child’s brain and is vital to their physical, cognitive and social development. With this in mind, Vial Games is structured into three sections: singing, games and free play. This structure enables the children to gain a sense of familiarity with the program, using routine to bridge the inevitable language gap. We are supported by adult residents from the camp who speak various languages and help with the activities. Additionally, we create a space where parents can relax, feel empowered to play with their children and have fun together.
Kicking off the session, singing helps integrate newcomers into the group. It acts as a really inclusive way to ease this new environment. Within the camp, communities are often segregated by nationality. Vial Games allow us to reverse some of the social hostilities that might exist between different groups, providing a platform for the children to practice relationship building. Next, we play games and dance to traditional music which helps the kids release some energy in a constructive and fun way. Finally, free play allows kids to be creative; they can choose to take part in arts and crafts, football, skipping and reading books in their native language or English from our mini library.
Recently, we had a visit from The Flying Seagull Project; a troupe of professional clowns who brought smiles to the faces of the children and adults alike. They spent four days at the camp entertaining everyone, even the kids who are sometimes difficult to engage.