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18.10.2012 - Ausgabe: 5/2012

Hamburg society builds playgrounds in crisis areas

alma terra for happy children.


It builds its so-called happiness oases in the form of playgrounds and sports grounds for children in crisis areas and disadvantaged regions of the world.

The society, with its headquarters in Hamburg, was founded in 2004. Founding member and Executive Chairman Abrahim Naeim is a native Afghan and developed the idea for alma terra after a key experience in his home town: “I saw how the children in the region played on top of an old, burnt out Panzer tank. There were no other play opportunities for miles around. I never managed to get this miserable image out of my mind.” Back in Hamburg, Abrahim and seven like-minded individuals with roots around the world got together. The 36-year-old remembers how “everyone immediately understood the concept of happiness oases for children and fervently campaigned for the foundation of alma terra and the first happiness oasis”.

Eight years have passed since then during which time alma terra has achieved so much: seven happiness oases have been created in Afghanistan and Tanzania. The two most recent projects were realised in July 2011 in Kabul and in the Panjshir mountains, which lie 100 kilometres north east of Kabul. It is important to the society that the play and sports facilities are adjoined to existing schools and nurseries. If this is achieved then the children will be monitored by adults and the play equipment will be maintained. To build a playground costs in the region of €8,200. “We buy all our materials on location and construct it employing local tradespeople and the residents together,” explains Naeim, who until now almost always led the projects personally. This helps boost the local economy, and the residents make the project their own. Only the swings and seesaw joints are brought in from Germany in order to guarantee the safety and durability of the playground equipment. These parts were donated to the society by the company E.Beckmann. Aside from swings and seesaws, there is also a slide, a climbing frame and a small ‘Amphitheatre’, which acts as a seating option. These are the constituent parts of a happiness oasis. Naeim explains: “Twice we have also built a labyrinth so that the children could feel their way through while blindfolded.” Wherever possible, requests and ideas from local resident children and youths are taken into consideration. An example of this is the Tanzanian village of Nungwi where alma terra has built a netball court in addition to the play area as the girls in the village were particularly keen on having one.

This year the members and helpers of alma terra want to take a brave next step. They want to build a complete day care nursery with accompanying play area on the grounds of the Polytechnic University of Kabul. The day care nursery should be able to accommodate 120 boys and girls and, most importantly, it should help young parents. It is hoped, for example, that this will result in a clear increase in the proportion of woman studying at the technical university. “Without reasonable childcare provision it is almost impossible for women to co-ordinate their role as mother and their studies,” says Friederike Willig, who supports alma terra as an active member. “The children should receive appropriate care as well as a targeted stimulation that provides the foundation for their life”. Although the university authorities are aware of the lack of care provision for children they cannot, however, solve the problem on their own due to a lack of available funds.

Despite this, the male and female students at the Polytechnic University of Kabul want to tackle the problem and have already pledged the alma terra team energetic support in the interior decoration of the day centre. Within the framework of collaboration with HafenCity Universität Hamburg (HCU) some German students have already helped progress the project. A competition took place for those in the fifth semester of the architecture course at the university with the best design for the façade being sought and found. So is it all done and dusted then? Unfortunately not quite, states Abrahim Naeim, who explains: “Despite tremendous support from all sides we are still in need of crucial funds to enable us to build the day care centre and play area in Kabul.”

The happiness oases that the society has built in the past are all still standing. They are still in good condition and it is not only children, but also adults who enjoy playing in them. “At the opening ceremony for each playground the boys and girls of the adjoining schools, and the teachers and locals would usually perform an extravagant, well-rehearsed performance of song and dance. This would be followed by the official opening ceremony for the play equipment. It normally doesn’t last long either before the first adults become curious and investigate a swing, having great fun in the process,” explains Naeim happily. As the American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes once said so accurately: “We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing!

Further information on the society, its projects and events and how you can help as an active member or donator can be found at www.almaterra.org.


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