Children play in the playground at Battambang Provincial Hospital, Battambang Province, Cambodia. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini
A first-time initiative in Cambodian hospitals, playgrounds help health care providers, parents and sick children have a better experience during treatment. I spoke with Sedtha Chin, HIV/AIDS Specialist at UNICEF Cambodia, who led this innovative project.
Q: In a nutshell, what is the “Playgrounds in Hospitals” project?A: The project consists in introducing playgrounds into the paediatric ward of Cambodian hospitals to benefit hospitalized children; children with HIV going in for their monthly treatment; hospital staff; and parents. Playgrounds are equipped with toys and books for children and adults to read. The idea is to create an environment where children enjoy themselves and learn while waiting to be treated; healthcare providers are less under pressure because children are not crying to go home; and it’s easier for parents to keep their children waiting.
Playground facilitator Sngiem Sokha tells a story with kamishibai, a Japanese story-box theatre, in the playground at Battambang Provincial Hospital, Battambang Province, Cambodia. © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Martina Tomassini
Q: How did it all start?
In 2007 I worked mostly in hospitals across Cambodia, in their Pediatric Health Care Unit. When I travelled the provinces [i.e. rural areas] I thought, “Why don’t we have something like a friendly place for children to enjoy, so that they are less stressed about being in a hospital?” Often I would see them cry on their bed, look depressed, just insisting to go home. No child wants to stay at the hospital, right? Then, one day I visited a pre-school and I saw they had a playground. So I thought, “I must try to do something similar in hospitals.”
A few weeks later, when I left the office, I saw a ‘mobile library’ car painted with children’s images and the SIPAR logo [a French-Cambodian NGO that promotes reading among children and youth]. The following day I got in touch with the organization’s director: I told him about my plan to set up a small library in a hospital. He told me that they have lots of experience setting up mobile libraries with schools [i.e. vans with books and a schedule to visit communities] but they had never set up a traditional library in hospitals. We were both eager to give it a go so we made a plan.
The first evaluation based on interviews with parents, health care providers and parents gave us very positive results. The playground was benefitting hospitalized children, particularly in the Severe Malnutrition ward where it was set up, and children with HIV who were not hospitalized but went to the hospital periodically for their medicine. Both doctors and parents had a more pleasant treatment experience. So we decided to scale up to nine hospitals in the provinces and three years later we added another six hospitals. As of today there are 17 playgrounds in paediatric wards in Cambodia – and we keep receiving requests for more.