September 1, 1998
This week my husband and I are traveling to Russia and Northern Ireland.
In the light of Russia's political and economic crisis, many have
wondered whether now is the appropriate time for the President to make
this trip. Actually a visit by the American President may carry particular
significance for the Russian people now as they confront the difficult
challenges ahead. The United States has an enormous stake in Russia's
future, and as Russia struggles to build democracy and economic reform,
we must remain engaged and demonstrate our support of their effort.
In addition, there are important foreign policy and security challenges
facing the global community in which Russia must play a key role. And,
the Russian people must know that, in times of difficulty, the United
States will not turn its back.
Likewise, in the face of the recent violence in Northern Ireland, the
President's visit stands as a tribute to the courage and determination of
the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic who voted to make the
Good Friday peace agreement possible. The President's presence also
signals his support for the rapid implementation of the agreement and
the United States will continue to be deeply involved in supporting the
peace process and economic development both in the Irish Republic and
While in Northern Ireland, I will have the opportunity to announce the
creation of a different kind of partnership smaller but, in many ways,
just as important to the future of the region. It's a partnership
designed to bring the children of Belfast one of the most fundamentals of
childhood a safe place to play. This new partnership will join together
PlayBoard, a group based in Northern
Ireland and dedicated to improving the quality of children's lives by
providing opportunities to play, with KaBOOM!, a $2.3 million nonprofit
corporation based in Washington, D.C. that brings individuals,
organizations and businesses together to build safe and accessible
playgrounds in some of this country's toughest neighborhoods. Their goal
is to build 1,000
playgrounds in the U.S. by the end of the year 2000. Darell Hammond, the
CEO of KaBOOM, explains why he thinks playgrounds are so important: At
KaBOOM!, we believe in play because it is the work of children. When we
take away opportunities for children to test their
physical skills, develop self-esteem and interact constructively with
their peers, we effectively make these children unemployed.
By building playgrounds, we invest in our children and the safety of the
communities on which our businesses depend. Sadly, millions of the
world's children don't have safe places to play. Instead they play in the
streets or other dangerous places, often littered with garbage, broken
glass, abandoned cars, even discarded drug paraphernalia. In some parts
of the world, the dangers include bombs, snipers and even landmines.
For eight years PlayBoard has studied the impact of violence and
sectarianism on the children of Northern Ireland where 70 percent of 9-
to 11- year-olds have witnessed a bombing or a shooting and where
children as young as three manifest sectarian hatred when they play.
PlayBoard's Chief Executive, Antoinette McKeown says, "Our goal is to
create an environment to bring out children's natural instinct to play
freely to work out their negative experiences through play and to find a
way of exploring their own true identities. We hope to rid our children of
stereotyping and name calling."
Now, with the support of its American partner, KaBOOM!, PlayBoard hopes
to create a unique new play space in the middle of Belfast. As
Antoinette describes it, It won't be a traditional playground with swings
and roundabouts. It's intended to be an environmental haven with a
series of natural challenges designed by children themselves. For many
children, this play space will give them their first opportunity to play
with children of other faiths.
In exchange, PlayBoard will work with KaBOOM! to share what it's learned
about the value of therapeutic play with communities in this country.
The two groups also hope to host an international conference next year on
the value of play.
Darell and Antoinette know that KaBOOM! and PlayBoard are not only
building safe places for children to play. They are also building
community spirit and pride, bringing people together, breaking down
barriers and inspiring hope. The partnership between KaBOOM! and
PlayBoard reminds us that what the children of Northern Ireland need is
not so different from what the children of our inner cities need or for
that matter what children everywhere need. They need to play to explore
their environments freely, without fear or prejudice. Only then will
they develop the skills to become the leaders of nations that work
together so their children can play in peace.
COPYRIGHT 1998 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED