Young children being left unattended and teenagers gathering to gamble, drink and take drugs are typical images of a disadvantaged community such as Ban Na, where proper playground and activity spaces are lacking. The situation seems to have worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic, with the closure of schools leaving many children at home with no proper learning platforms.
The project entitled “Zero Hunger and Well-Being among All”, initiated by the Women’s Health Advocacy Foundation (WHAF), in partnership with UNDP through the “COVID-19 Socio-economic Response and Recovery Project” and financially supported by the Japanese Government aims to improve the learning environment within the community. The working team developed a free space into a lively “play and learn” yard providing a learning alley for children and youths. The learning activities are usually led by leaders of teenage mothers and volunteer teachers in the community. Every week, they organize a wide range of creative activities for children and youths such as painting, playing the drums and ukulele, vegetable gardening, making face mask strings, as well as teaching children how to stay well and live safely during the COVID-19 crisis.
The creation of the “play and learn” common space in the community has positively impacted the community members. The parents are interested in sending their children to participate in continuous activities. The children enjoy participating in the learning activities while the parents also gain relief from taking care of them when they cannot attend school during the COVID-19 crisis. Parents feel confident that their children will receive good quality care and are encouraged to develop properly through a variety of activities. In addition, this project also contributes to capacity building for single mothers in the community. They have developed skills by providing creative activities and age-suitable care for children according to the quality standard, learning more about child development and applying the knowledge gained to raise their own children and take care of other children in the community.
This “play and learn” yard has been developed not only to provide activities for children and youths but also an area for growing vegetables such as papaya, eggplant, basil, peppers, lemon, kale and cabbage. The vegetable harvest is then distributed to children and parents affected by the COVID-19 crisis as a simple way of mitigating its impact on food and income security.
Laura, one of the members of the Baanna Municipal Council, said:
“At the ‘learn and play’ yard, children help to grow vegetables and distribute them to villagers suffering from COVID-19. It can help alleviate the problems of food supply, and there are always villagers who come to ask for vegetables here.”
Moreover, this “play and learn” yard is also a place for teenage mothers to gather and start alternative-income generating groups such as making snacks and fruit and vegetable juices for sale at restaurants in the community. They also plan to expand the market by contacting schools, government agencies and community cooperatives to display their products.
Namwhan, one of the teenage mothers who joined the group, said:
“I want to make some money to buy milk for my baby. Thank you for teaching me how to make sweets and juices, and for supporting me to have a career. When I am free from doing activities with the kids, I come here to make sweets and put them in boxes for sale.”
This project fosters the building of a positive community environment in addition to supporting the development of learning for children in the community. Such solidary and collaboration among community members has potential for sustainable market expansion and improvement in the quality of life for members of the Baan Na community.