New playgrounds in mine-affected areas of Croatia provide a safe gathering place for children, families and the community. This local project of the Croatian Red Cross helps 45 communities enjoy the simple pleasures of life again.
In some areas of Croatia, mine contamination still causes serious economic and social obstacles within the community, reduces social recovery and disables activities necessary for normal life. Until recently, carefree childhood years were abruptly interrupted by the loss of safe places to play in Croatia, and formerly available facilities became mere memories.
However, with the help of several donors in 2001, the local Vinkovci chapter of the Croatian Red Cross began to construct safe playgrounds for children. To date, 45 children's playgrounds have been completed in 31 villages surrounding Vinkovci, and another 14 in Beli Manastir, Benkovac, Darda, Dvor, Gospić, Knin, Novska, Otočac, Pakrac, Petrinja, Sinj, Slunj, Topusko and Vrlika.
The idea to construct new playgrounds to prevent injuries and deaths of children soon spread to other mine-contaminated areas of Croatia. Fundraising through a humanitarian action called "Watch Your Step!" and a concert by the Scala Philharmonic Orchestra of Milan, held in Zagreb in 2003, supplemented donations by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Croatian Red Cross, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, different banks and friendly towns from abroad to fund this important local Red Cross project.
The opening of every playground is a festive occasion with recitals and singing or short mine action role-playing by local children. The playground provides many touching moments as happy children rush down a hill on toboggans or sit on a swing—sometimes a little too soon, painting their clothing because the paint is still wet. New benches are installed for adults to relax and listen to a children's recital, watch the dancing, and hear the youngest children sing. Children are dressed in T-shirts painted with highly visible messages, such as "Children, be aware of mines!"
Children enjoy a playground's opening day.
Photos courtesy of Melita Mihalić/Croatian Red Cross—local RC branch, Novska.
Official estimates from the Croatian Mine Action Center show it will take until 2010 to solve Croatia's mine problem. At the time of this writing, there were 1,174 square kilometers (453 square miles) of mine-affected and suspected mined areas with 250,000 mines in 12 counties (out of 21) in Croatia. The people currently living in or returning to the areas from which they were displaced are in constant danger. Since 1991, there have been 1,737 mine victims in Croatia (including 69 children). Among these, 426 adults and 11 children have died.
A playground's opening ceremony.
Photo courtesy of Željko Gašparović/Croatian Red Cross, Novska
Since 1996, the Croatian Red Cross has conducted mine risk education in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross in 14 mine-contaminated counties and in 49 towns and municipal Red Cross branches. Sixty-five MRE-trained instructors and local Red Cross heads are providing education on and promotion of safe behavior for children and adults in order to protect them from the threat they face.
The MRE program of the Croatian Red Cross is one of the priorities of the national mine action system of the Republic of Croatia. In 2001, the Croatian Red Cross helped to pass MRE into law.
Thanks to the richness of ideas, interesting local Red Cross projects (like the children's playgrounds) encourage exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances, plays, sporting competitions and other events in the community. So far, almost 100,000 visitors have attended these events and learned about the danger of mines.
Developing a new playground and gathering space for families has made a significant difference in the quality of life for the people of Croatia. It is an idea that can help other war-torn and mine-affected countries around the world. In fact, UNICEF, with additional funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, recently began setting up "alternative safe play areas" in the Gaza Strip,1 bringing another part of the world the opportunity for a carefree childhood.
Since 1997, Dr. Vijorka Roseg has been the mine risk education program manager for the Croatian Red Cross. She manages the program in 14 mine-affected counties and 49 local Red Cross branches in Croatia.
- "New Safe Play Areas for Worst Affected Kids in Gaza," Aug. 12, 2005, http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/VBOL-6F7DGE?OpenDocument. Accessed Aug. 12, 2005.
Vijorka Roseg, MD
MRE Program Manager
Croatian Red Cross
Crvenog križa 14
10 000 Zagreb
Tel: +385 1 4655 814
Fax: +385 1 4655 365
Cell: +385 98 484 089
Web site: http://www.hck.hr