Best Rising NGO: Play Africa
Play Africa is a unique NPO dedicated to empowering children under the age of 11 with skills for a changing world through giving them access to creative, holistic and playful learning.
To the thousands of children who have visited Play Africa at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, the venue is an exciting playground offering a range of fascinating activities that the city’s disadvantaged children, in particular, have never been exposed to. While enjoying all the fun, they have the valuable opportunity to develop the strengths they will need to thrive in the fast-changing global economy of tomorrow.
With the first years of a child’s life being the optimal time for developing a solid foundation for later learning, Play Africa focuses on the early childhood development and primary education phases. Play has been proven to contribute to cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being; brain development and dexterity, as well as learning readiness, learning behaviours and problem-solving skills. It allows children to use their imaginations while being physically active at the same time. Play is so important to optimal childhood development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognised it as a right of every child.
Launched in 2013, and based in the Old Fort at Constitution Hill, Play Africa offers free entrance to a warm, welcoming, interactive “playscape” where learning, discovery and familial bonding are encouraged by a team of trained facilitators. Historical divisions and inequities disappear as the children immerse themselves in the hands-on exhibits and play stations ranging from Lego, Duplo, train sets and a large-scale building kit known as “rigamajig”, to a market stall and the “imagination playground” where they can build forts, cars or anything they want with giant foam blocks.
Most of the young visitors are children from low-income homes and underserved communities. Many are physically or mentally disabled, neglected, orphaned or homeless, or have been physically and/or mentally abused or traumatised. Some are from refugee or asylum-seeking families. Special provision is made for children with disabilities and special needs, and those with autism or other sensory integration challenges. This includes a reduced sound environment and sensory aids.
For children who cannot get to the venue, Play Africa has created pop-up experiences in the city itself in places such as school halls, parks, community centres and inner-city rooftops. The organisation also conducts “right to play” outreach and advocacy programmes in underserved communities which directly serve tens of thousands of children nationwide.
The playful learning opportunities offered at all venues focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) while encouraging creativity, personal expression and the arts. The children are further given a valuable grounding in ubuntu and civic engagement in a democratic society. Parent engagement and teacher training are also a part of Play Africa’s approach. With the aid of accessible technology, the facilitators share practical ways parents can support children’s emotional, cognitive, social and physical well-being.
The organisation honours all children, regardless of their backgrounds; celebrates each one’s human dignity, creativity and potential; and champions their rights as enshrined in our Constitution, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Play Africa also benefits others – unemployed youth are given skills development training while local suppliers, including black-owned small businesses and micro-enterprises, are commissioned to create the exhibits and materials needed.
With plans to expand its footprint across sub-Saharan Africa, Play Africa is seeking suitable strategic partners, offering them the opportunity to gain points on their B-BBEE scorecards via socio-economic development, ownership, enterprise development and skills development.