Thomas Gbemu is 9 and lives across the road from the Mmofra compound in Dzorwulu with his family. His father is a professional driver and was hired for the last week of May 2012 to take charrette participants around Accra. His mother is a versatile petty trader. Both parents are enthusiastic supporters of Mmofra.
The Gbemu family has 3 older girls, and 3 younger boys who have all been participants in the Mmofra language club program. Thomas was very curious about the charrette and was a frequent visitor to the proceedings at the compound when not in school.
He even joined some older students in an exercise to imagine the changes being proposed as Amowi, the charrette’s convener explained the importance of children in the process.
For Thomas and his brothers, the park will be a place to run and play, to imagine and live for a short time in a child’s world of made up stories and adventure.
Children in Ghana are often pushed to concentrate on their studies, sometimes crowding out the importance of creativity and play as preparation for life. An easy thing to do when resources are few and there is only one official children’s park in central Accra.
The students gave us their opinion which was to include fast, slow, over and under, a wall to write on, and a place in the shade. The building, pata structure and amphitheater will be used for storytelling, cultural exposures (dancing and singing) and performances. The library may also serve as an education center open to parents and caregivers.
Something for everyone, and from an accommodation point of view even the kitchen sink is included, to provide a place for occasional events as well. Maybe cooking classes using produce from the community garden?
With so many choices, one of the more difficult aspects of the charrette was deciding which elements were priority and how they should be placed.
The day before I left, Kobla the driver took me to a beach near Accra and brought his three youngest children along, Thomas and his two younger brothers Dela who is 7, and the 3 year old Edwin. Thomas, Dela and I took a long walk up the beach creeping to the water’s edge as the waves pulled back into the ocean, then racing up-beach as the water rolled in again. It was a game to stay away from the water (Dela is afraid), which turned to kicking it to stay back and making a sandy wet mess in the process. We found shells and made a sand fort with high walls to protect the shell houses (placed for the Aunties and Uncles) and set an emptied coconut on the wall to serve as the fort’s water tank. Thomas dug a moat and engineered a drainage ditch to drain the high waters. All was good until a big wave drowned the fort and its vulnerable houses. Thomas wants to try again for a better drainage system.
Play at the beach is great. Play across the street or in a park not far from blocks from home is even better, now a step closer to becoming a reality.
Stacey is an architect from South Dakota specializing in sustainable thinking and design. She spent a week in May 2012 with Mmofra Foundation as part of the Playtime in Africa charrette.