Playgrounds in Windhoek have over the years failed to fulfil the recreational needs of children.
As a result, parents have opted to take their children to private playgrounds often confined to a building. This also means they have to dig into their pockets to cater for their children’s playtime.
New Era Weekend caught up with a group of mothers who have a play date once a week. The mothers and their children whose ages vary between one and four years old meet at Joyful Noise playground every Wednesday morning.
These mothers – Aneen Graupe, Milandie Nedenhof, Nadine Jacobs and Camille Young – never leave their children alone at the facility.
They met through a Facebook page and have since established a bond through their play dates.
During their play date, the children play on the playground equipment at the centre while the mothers relax and have some mommies’ time. Playgrounds are important for child stimulation, they said in agreement.
In unison the mothers explained they take their children to a playground not necessarily because there are no play facilities at home.
Children need to get out of their home environments once in a while to stimulate their social skills, said the play date mothers.
“When children run around a bit their day is so much better. They get to see and make friends with other kids. The house gets boring for them when they are confined to that only,” added Young.
Similarly, Anta Mandy, the owner of Busybodies playground in Kleinne Kuppe cited studies that show children get depressed if they are not very active.
“They might suffer if they are not active enough. By bringing the child here at least once or twice a week they get proper exercise and it’s not just about running around, it’s up, it’s down, it’s ducking, crawling and much more,” Mandy said.
She started the concept of a confined playground six months ago when she realised that there were no secure recreational facilities for her two hyperactive sons to play at.
“We started this playground (Busybodies) because of my two sons who are hyper. They are the definition of the word busy. So, this is to keep them busy and active,” explained Mandy.
The facility has nannies fully trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), bodily fluids and tantrums. It caters for children between 0 to 12 years.
“It focuses the whole body on actual healthy exercise which is not necessarily available at home or municipal playgrounds,” she said, explaining the concept of the confined playground.
“When a child comes here for the first time you will not see him for 40 minutes – you will just see him when he comes and drinks his water or cool drink. Most of the children start getting tired after playing for about two hours,” she added.
The prices of these establishments vary from anything between N$20 and N$180, depending on the day of the week and play time.
“This is an option for the child to be more active while the parent and child are in the same environment,” said Mandy.
Saturday mornings are the busiest at Busybodies because most people then have time to relax, said Mandy.
Meanwhile, the play date mothers agreed that the confined playgrounds are much better than outdoor playgrounds.
But, not all establishments are hygienic, they added. In addition, the food sold at those establishments is not very healthy for children as it is mainly processed food.
As a result, they have days when they individually go to other places where they don’t have to pay for picnics and where they can prepare healthy snacks for their children.
But their experience at places such as Zoo Park and Parliament Gardens is that they are not ideal for children, primarily because the equipment there is not “up to standard”, the play date mothers explained.
“Government structures are not well maintained. Their standard is very low, there are nails sticking out and kids hardly play on some of those structures because of the nail issues. And then the nice playgrounds are not safe and secure,” said Jacobs, motivating why she prefers to take her children to a private playground.
Sharing similar sentiments, the councillor of Tobias Hainyeko Constituency, Christopher Likuwa, who is also a resident of the constituency expressed concern that children are not adequately catered for when it comes to recreational time.
What’s worse is that there are no playgrounds or any play facilities for children. As a result, children are forced to play on the streets where they are exposed to unhygienic conditions and also dangers of being run over by cars, explained Likuwa.
“There are no safe places for our children to play and they are exposed to many dangers playing on the streets,” he added.
Tobias Hainyeko Constituency consists of informal settlements such as Okahandja Park and Babylon. The spokesperson of the Windhoek Municipality, Joshua Amukugo, admits the municipality has failed residents in terms of fulfilling the recreational needs of residents and particularly those of children.
“This has been brought to the municipality’s attention at many public meetings. The municipality would like to rectify the recreational vacuum by constructing playgrounds throughout the city’s suburbs,” he added. Amukugo is aware playgrounds are important for the social interaction of children.
“Playgrounds can help children develop physically, emotional, socially and intellectually,” Amukugo added.
Despite not fully meeting all the recreational needs of children in the various suburbs of Windhoek, there has been an increase in the number of playgrounds in Windhoek since independence.
By the end of 2005, there were 37 playgrounds throughout Windhoek.
“Problems experienced in playgrounds result from the general disregard of the public towards these sites,” said Amukugo. In addition, he said: “The playgrounds are viewed in general as unsafe and some become abandoned. Vagrants and vandals then fill the void.”
The patterns of behaviour displayed at each playground indicates that the busier the playground is the safer it becomes, he added.
“The five playgrounds in Katutura that are well used by children suffer the least vandalism of all playgrounds. Making the playgrounds busier and safer would mean attracting all family members not only children. If these can be accomplished they will become assets and not municipal burdens,” stated Amukugo.
Every year, the City of Windhoek spends nearly N$300 000 on play-park equipment repairs and other renovations, said Amukugo.
Businesses and individuals have taken advantage of the fact that the municipality cannot provide proper recreational facilities for children. But they also want the government to cater for children whose parents cannot afford the luxury of a confined playground.
“I think the government has to think about safe places for children to play,” Mandy said. Public playgrounds should be secure for parents to take their children there, added Mandy.
Her experience is that public recreational facilities for children often do not have shades and children are exposed to the sun if they go and play on a sunny day.
“What is the point of providing a playground if you don’t provide proper shades?” she asked. It is standard at most schools that children cannot go out and play in the sun without a hat and applying sunscreen, she added. “So why can’t this be the standard at public playgrounds?” queried Mandy further.
As part of its social responsibility, Busybodies playground caters for children who can never enjoy the luxury of a fancy playground, to play at the facility.