Play programmes are the best strategy for 'low-income' countries

We have spoken at great length about why play programmes are such a fantastic, transformative approach which bring the most isolated people on our planet, out of isolation and into a supportive environment where they thrive. For some, playschemes are literally life-saving.

You may presume (and you wouldn’t be alone!) that in low and middle-income countries, where there are fewer resources, play programmes may not be the answer – or even an answer at all.

Fortunately, you couldn’t be more wrong.

We often proclaim that play programmes can be successfully run anywhere in the world. These are the reasons why.

You do not need a specialist building

There are no specialist buildings or facilities required for a play programme. In fact, the best games are often played outside with no equipment. The only thing an individual needs to play, is an imagination!

Of course, it’s often necessary to have some shelter from the sweltering sun or the pouring rain but this shelter is available in most communities; there will be a classroom or a community hall or a religious building that can be used.

You do not need specialist staff

Similarly, the misconception that to effectively support and include people with impairments, one must have some specialist knowledge or expertise, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to creating inclusive communities.

In low and middle-income communities, there are very few, if any at all, ‘specialists’ who can provide a regular service to disabled people. Many people have been sold the idea that until such a specialist is available, nothing can be done. This means that disabled people, especially disabled young people, have been left behind.

What has become apparent over the years, is that volunteers on a play programme become the experts. They know the children and realise what games to play to improve the child’s communication or coordination. Often, they understand the children better than anyone. At times, they take on the roles (albeit informally) of teaching assistants, social workers, healthcare assistants, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and, most importantly, friends.

Of course, once a playscheme is established, it may be necessary for a young person to see a qualified expert, a doctor, for example - but an inclusive community begins with just a few compassionate, committed individuals willing to make a difference to their community.

It’s inexpensive and good value for money

Specialist people, buildings and equipment can be expensive and hard to find. As we’ve discovered, you don’t need any of that to start a playscheme!

All you need is compassionate and committed people, a little bit of space and some toys (these can be made out of locally available materials).

A 2011 study of Roma children in Transylvania found that play is naturally inclusive and available to everyone. The group of Roma children in Transylvania that the researchers focused on are among the poorest children in Europe. The study claims that, unlike most children in European countries, “They often live in one-room shacks made from wood and mud, with no running water, no sanitation, and sometimes no heating”. These children rely on charity for basics such as food. However, “They ‘play everywhere and with everything” and “their play is rich in imagination and creativity”. Despite their disadvantage, they have high levels of happiness.

So, what does this tell us? A lack of resources is not a barrier to children benefiting from play - play is the key to inclusion and happiness. It is an ideal strategy for resource contexts of LMICs.

Playschemes are sustainable and replicable

Play programmes can be set up inexpensively, anywhere in the world because they do not require specialist people or equipment - just committed individuals who go on to become the experts in an inclusive, play-based, child-centered project.

This makes them sustainable and it means they can be replicated and adapted to fit another context elsewhere.

Play programmes are simple but have a huge impact. They are especially powerful in addressing issues found in low and middle-income countries. Sustainability and replication are vital because they ensure that no-one is left behind now, or in the future.

It is everyone’s duty to include and care for disadvantaged young people – the first place to do this is at an inclusive playscheme. Inclusion saves lives. Inclusion is the driving force behind prosperous, happy and healthy communities. Inclusion is good for everyone.