Harmanli Refugee Camp Play School was set up in November 2014 by 2 unpaid and unfunded volunteers from England. Gil Clasby is a qualified nursery nurse and Sadie Clasby is a qualified primary school teacher; both have qualifications and years of experience in playwork. Their aim has been to set up and run a centre for play based learning and therapeutic play in which refugee children can relax, have fun and thrive! They also aim to introduce children to the structure and >
Here is a link to our Facebook group:
The Refugee Camp
Harmanli Refugee Camp is located in the south east of Bulgaria, 20 minutes from the Turkish border. The refugees in this camp are usually mostly from Syria but are also from Iraq, Iran, Palestine and Afghanistan. Most have had their homes and all their possessions destroyed by war, many have lost family members and all have experienced extreme trauma and hardship. They have reached Bulgaria in hope of finding a safer life in Europe.
The camp can house up to 4000 refugees. Currently there are around 400 but this changes all the time. Typically about a quarter of the refugees in Harmanli camp are children and they can spend anywhere from a few days to over a year living in the camp. Many of these children have either never been to school or have been out of school for years. Most do not attend school whilst living in Harmanli camp, they have no playground and spend a lot of their time listening to parents and others talking about war and their fears for the future. All children show signs of trauma and many are grieving for lost family members.
The Play School
Currently the play school caters for up to 100 children across 3 sessions, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. We also have a movie afternoon every Friday. Our play school is currently split into 3 age groups; ages 4 – 7, ages 8 – 10 and ages 11 – 13. We have to regularly adapt our timetable to meet the needs of the ever changing numbers of refugee children in Harmanli camp! However we keep the same basic routine within each session as consistency is very important for children who have experienced trauma. Each session begins with 90 minutes of free play where children can choose from a wide range of art and craft activities, a mix of both educational and less educational toys and games, reading in the quiet area, sensory play, role play and more. This is followed by a 20 to 30 minute informal lesson where basic English and maths are taught through games and songs. We are an inclusive school, many children who have attended have specific special educational needs including downs syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and hearing/sight difficulties. All children who attend have experienced differing levels of trauma in recent years.
The play school has been a big success over the last 3 years! It is very popular with both children and their parents, we have been told by many children and parents that the school is the only good thing about being in the camp. Some even say that it is the only good thing about being in Bulgaria due to their bad experiences in this country. When children first start coming to our play school they are often very quiet, shy and frightened, they cling to siblings and stick to one area of the room. All children show signs of trauma in their behaviour. After just a few weeks attending our school they have made lots of friends, developed their confidence, social skills and ability to communicate with others who speak a different language.
When children of Harmanli Refugee Camp are not attending our school they are either inside listening to stressed parents discussing war, money worries, future worries or are outside playing with broken bits of plastic and stones. We witness children fighting outside our classroom every day that we are in camp but we rarely see this behaviour in our classroom. Our school provides a safe, therapeutic environment in which children can play, relax, learn and forget about the grown up worries that they spend so much time exposed to. They are taught or reminded of the learning behaviour expected inside a classroom, to prepare them for school in the country they will finally settle in and learn skills to help them communicate and integrate with people from different cultures. They learn basic English, which will help them in any European country they eventually settle in, and develop their understanding of numbers.
Our first year was funded by ourselves and a few kind donors. Our second and third years were funded through GoFundMe! We have been totally overwhelmed by the support we have received over the years – support that has enabled us to improve the lives of THOUSANDS of refugee children! We are now entering the fouth year of running Harmanli Refugee Camp Play School and need your help!
Last year we raised way over our target and were able to buy lots of new equipment and some extra special craft activities that the children absolutely loved doing! This year we would like to try and raise £6000. £6000 would not only pay for a qualified primary school teacher to run the school until the end of July 2018 but would also pay for all travel costs involved and 10 months worth of school resources! If we go over our target again this year the extra money will go towards buying some more of those extra special craft activities that the children enjoy so much!
Here is the link to our fundraiser: https://www.gofundme.com/HarmanliRefugeeCampPlaySchool
Thank you for your time and support
Links for further information:
We are an example of good practice on the European Commission’s website on integration:
We won an award for our humanitarian work:
A Bulgarian article about our play school:
Appearances on British TV and articles in English: