At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Underground amusement park gives Syrian children chance to play

© UNICEF/UN041515/Alshami
Two girls play at the 'Land of Childhood' underground playground.

An underground amusement park complete with Ferris wheel, ball court and other games, offers Syrian children a sanctuary to play without fear of attack.

Syrian Arab Republic, 27 November, 2016 – Despite the escalating violence across the country, Syrian children are doing whatever they can to live normal childhoods, even if it means going underground.

The ‘Land of Childhood’, a fusion of playground and theme park, was created by linking a series of basements together and offers a Ferris wheel ride, playhouse, ball court and other games.

For the children and their parents, it provides the relative safety that they so desperately seek just to play. “I join in most of the games available here,” says seven-year-old Massa, who was visiting from a nearby town. “I’m not afraid of bombardments because my father told me that we are in the basement.”

>> View photo essay on Medium: A safe haven for children 

© UNICEF/UN041520/Alshami
Children on the ride of a Ferris wheel at the 'Land of Childhood'.

Designing a safe haven for children under siege

As violence continues to escalate, the number of children living under siege has doubled in less than one year. Nearly 500,000 children now live in 16 besieged areas across the country, almost completely cut off from sustained humanitarian aid and basic services.

There are few safe places left where children can play. So a group of young volunteers came up with an innovative solution: to connect two basements via a tunnel and create a place where children can have fun and move without fear of attack.

One of the creators, Yaseen, was a fourth year architecture student in Damascus when the siege forced him to leave university a year before graduation.

“Designing this project was a relief from the war photojournalism that I started doing after the war began. I wanted to retrieve my old skills as an architect to produce something that brings happiness to children,” he explains.

The playground, which took two years to complete, receives on average up to 200 children every day. “We dug a tunnel to create a safe connection between the two basements and decorated it with coloured lights and some toys,” says Yaseen. “We wanted to transform the tunnel from being a place associated with attacks, fear and horror to a fun place that engages children as they pass through it.” 

© UNICEF/UN041520/Alshami
Children play on the train and in the plastic house at the 'Land of Childhood'.

A war on childhood

For all the children who attend, playing outdoors is not an option. Abdulaziz, 10, who lost his father during the war, comes here to spend time with his friends. “My mother doesn’t allow me to play in the street with the neighbours’ children, but when she learned that this place is underground she let me come here to play,” he says.

“My friends and I come here because it’s the last theme park that is still working,” says another child who is a regular at the playground. “The one we used to go to was attacked and is not functioning anymore.”

Children here face the constant danger of attacks that put their lives at risk. This year, the UN has documented 84 attacks on schools across the country with at least 69 children losing their lives and many others injured.

Despite everything, people like Yaseen are using their courage and creativity to help children lead lives that are as close to ‘normal’ as possible. Against all odds, children continue to risk their lives every day to go to school, and find a better future. 

Back in the ‘Land of Childhood’ children get a chance to do what they should be doing – playing and making friends. “We wanted to bring them in from the dark, depressing life they are experiencing under siege, to be able to play,” explains Yaseen. Listening to the children laughing and chatting, it’s an ambition that’s been achieved.


>> Read the press release: Half a million children live under siege in Syria

>>  Support children affected by the Syrian crisis



UNICEF Photography: A safe haven for children

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