UNICEF Launches Play Initiative with $1 Million Grant from Disney

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve time spent with my friends on the playground. Time on the playground could turn any day into a great day. And now, with Disney’s support, UNICEF is helping to bring the magic of play to kids who need it most.

The P.L.A.Y. initiative is a pilot program created by UNICEF – and supported by a $1-million founding grant from Disney – that brings portable playground units to children living in disaster-recovery conditions and extreme poverty.

We recently caught up with Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, to learn more about the program and the impact it’s having.

Why is it important to foster creative play in kids?
As a mom, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that play has had on my children. Play gives kids the opportunity to tap into their imagination, explore new ideas, and express themselves through their own creative means. It is crucial to their development and helps build critical thinking and other valuable skills that will last a lifetime, like learning to collaborate with peers.

What impact has the P.L.A.Y. initiative had?
Recently launched in Haiti and Bangladesh, the initiative is focused on helping kids living in disaster recovery conditions and extreme poverty to reconnect with their childhood, and return a sense of normalcy to their daily lives. In Haiti, up to 5,000 children in 10 schools will have access to the playgrounds, both in earthquake-affected areas in and around the capital Port-au-Prince, and in remote, rural parts of the country. In Bangladesh, 20 child-friendly spaces and child development centers will receive playgrounds, reaching more than 6,000 children. UNICEF is also working with families and teachers to use playground blocks to help children master basic literacy, numeracy, language and communication skills.

What makes Disney an ideal organization to help launch P.L.A.Y.?
Disney has been a longtime supporter of UNICEF, beginning with unveiling the “it’s a small world” attraction at the 1964 World’s Fair. Disney is a company built around creativity and imagination, which is exactly what the P.L.A.Y. initiative is meant to inspire in kids. At the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, we believe that play is a universal right for children, and couldn’t think of a better partner than Disney to help us provide access to play, and the critical skills play develops, to all children.