“Play energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.” –Stuart Brown
Vial is home to more than 1000 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 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, with the aim of bringing energy and enthusiasm to these children and their parents – providing moments of escapism to the difficulty of their daily reality.
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 within a happy environment. The Games bring structure to their often chaotic lives and this helps them to feel safe and calm. The core mission of Vial Games is the provision of a dependable safe space – where 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 carefully structured – enableing the children to gain a sense of familiarity with the program and 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 and feel empowered to play with their children and have fun together.
The interractive songs we sing at Vial Games help integrate newcomers into the group. Within the camp, communities are often segregated by nationality; Games allows us to reverse some of the social hostilities that might exist between different groups. We also provide an opportunity for the older kids to play football – so everyone has the chance to let out some energy in a constructive way. Each session ends with a water break, allowing us to ensure that the children of the camp stay hydrated – when access to clean water in the camp can be limited.
Vial Games also provides an opportunity for volunteers to connect directly with the people we aim to help. Many volunteers find that these first-hand, energy-fuelled experiences help to re-energize them, putting our other projects in context and creating lasting memories.