Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Yangon’s paingrounds

Are kids playing safely in Yangon?

A “slide” in Kandawgyi park. Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar TimesA “slide” in Kandawgyi park. Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times

On a lovely Saturday afternoon, people from different walks of life had come to the park to relax, wash-off the stress of a hard working week and take their children out to play.

Friends were chatting; lovers were gazing fondly at each other; kids were playing serenely. Suddenly, a shrilling scream upset this idyllic scenery.

Two women ran in the direction of a playground, which seemed to be the crime scene. There, in a puddle near a slide, laid a three-year old crying and clutching his leg. His clothes were soaked, he looked in pain. A group of ten children just about his age were looking at him, bemused.

Although the child wasn’t bleeding, his leg was swollen. He could not stand. His mother seemed worried, they both left the park.

I don’t know what exactly happened to that child, but what I know is that the incident had a chilling effect. One by one, parents took their kids away from the playground turned instrument of torture. “This slide is too high”. “And that puddle there.” “It is not safe.” “We’re going home!”

The majority of children wanted to continue playing but parents wouldn’t allow them to.

That was a usual Saturday afternoon in Thu Mingalar park in South Okkalapa township.

Very concrete games. Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar TimesVery concrete games. Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times

Growing Parks; Missing Rules

Public parks in Myanmar were not always synonyms with children playing.

In Myanmar, parks were mostly a place for lovebirds to meet. Park entrance fees were cheaper than bars, and some bushes here and there were allowing the most impatient to exchange passionate kisses.

Parents wouldn’t allow their children to go near them.

The quality of parks and playgrounds has enormously increased since 2011. Under military rule, parks were not looked after and playgrounds were not exactly the government’s top priority.

This is good news. But now that these places of leisure exist, we must ensure they are safe.

Many parks have entrance fees so they should be able to afford the implementation of safety measures. This is not necessarily the case (see pictures).

There are 61 parks in Yangon and most of them have playgrounds for the little ones (slides, swings, seesaws, etc.). On top of that, there are 118 playfields where teenagers can play football or badminton.

Weekend visited 12 of them to have a feel of the environment kids were playing in. Our findings were not encouraging.

Despite being at the center of Yangon, Kandawgyi Park’s Myawsinkyun side playground has probably the worst playground I visited. Still, hundreds of people come daily, ticket-seller said. What are the K300 entrance fees for, I still wonder.

The Kandawgyi park playground is covered with concrete. Cracks appear on the floor. Old structures are coated with rust.

U Kyaw lives in Mingalar Taung Nyunt, he does not think the playground meets the required safety standards. “I bring my grandkids here, but I think twice before doing so.”

As I was interviewing people, a 5-year old fell down a slide. Parents seemed alarmed but the boy said he was fine. He continued playing. The fall was pretty bad, though. Away from his parents he confessed that he was indeed hurt, but feared to be taken away from his friends if he admitted so.

In other parts of the world playgrounds are much safer, says Ma Moh who visited Australia with her daughter earlier this year.

Children playing in Kandawgyi park without helmet. Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar TimesChildren playing in Kandawgyi park without helmet. Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times

Responsibility slides

So, who should concerned Yangonites turn to?

All the parks in Yangon are publically-owned by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), but here is the glitch none of them are under YCDC’s responsibility. Some parks and playgrounds are maintained by the public authorities while others are leased to the private sectors.

Anything happening within the perimeter of leased playgrounds is the responsibility of the respective companies.

“I haven’t heard of any serious injuries happening on the playgrounds,” says the chief officer of YCDC playgrounds, parks, and gardens department. He told Weekend that, so far, his services never had to seek redress.

Still, better safe than sorry.

Not all of Yangon’s parks have poor safety standards. Maha Bandula Park, at the heart of Yangon, is one of those places. Playgrounds there are carefully maintained. There are artificial grass and rubbery tiles to absorb the shocks.

The thing that would require some fixing in Maha Bandula is people’s attitude.

Teenagers slide and swing despite a sign indicating the place is reserved to five-year old who, from the side line, watched their elder enjoy the ride and test the resistance of the infrastructures.

Despite Maha Bandula Park being surrounded by rubbish bins, trash is everywhere. We cannot constantly blame the public authorities – especially when they get things right. Citizens also need to do their part.

Safety costs

Safety is not a luxury. Some shopping malls have playground, but the entrance fee of K1000 for just one hour can deter the more modest.

For underprivileged families, the only free decent park is Maha Bandula Park. But not everybody lives downtown.

On the outskirt of Yangon, the state of public playgrounds ranges from bad to shocking. Mud and dirt in a playground is understandable, especially during the monsoon season. But sprawling algae or planks of wood with rusty nails sticking out aren’t usual playthings.

“There are not enough playgrounds in Yangon compared to its population,” says U Nyi Nyi, a regional parliament representative from South Dagon. He has made his motto “a healthy mind in a healthy body” and want to develop infrastructure for youth – he is pushing a proposal to increase the number of playground at regional level. He stresses it will bring long term benefits.

“If the children cannot play safely, their growth will be hindered, both physically and intellectually”. He argues that the future leadership of the country is at stake. He blames bad sport result on the lack of playgrounds.

Dodging zooming cars will not help future champions on the football fields.

YCDC is doing its best to have decent parks in 33 townships. For this 2017-2018 Fiscal year, the responsible department has committed a K1,8 billion budget line. 13 playgrounds will be created and one park will be renovated.

The new government also has a permissive approach to private initiatives. Association feels freer to start projects, like the rehabilitation of back alleys – sometime with a playground.

When budgets are scarce, authorities must aim to strike the right balance between increasing the number of parks and increasing the safety of the existing ones.

The public should do its part, and ensure that parks remain clean. The well-being of Myanmar’s youth is, after all, our collective responsibility.

Translation by Win Thaw Tar, Khine Thazin Han, Kyaw Soe Htet and Lwin Bo Aung