In the middle of war zones and refugee camps, UNICEF helps create the rarest of things: a safe place for children to play.

Footballs, skipping ropes and building blocks are much more than toys for children in crisis. Play is a moment of freedom for a child trapped in a besieged city. A chance to feel normal in the chaos of a refugee camp. A way to make friends and start to rebuild from incredible loss.  

Every child deserves to play but when the streets aren’t safe and there’s no playground in sight, this is where they go.

They play in bunkers under the ground in Syria

Children laugh on a ferris wheel, dive into a colourful ball pit and wait in line for fairy floss. But they’re not on a holiday: these children are playing in basements under the streets of a war zone. The underground playground is called the Land of Childhood and was built by a group young volunteers determined to give Syrian children a place to play, laugh and feel safe for a few hours.
These children are just a few of the 420,000 who lived under siege in Syria in 2016. © UNICEF/UN041515/Alshami

In the streets above them, these children face the constant danger of attacks. But in the Land of Childhood, they get a chance to do what every child should be doing – playing and making friends. 
A rare moment for this boy to escape danger and be a child again. © UNICEF/UN041523/Alshami
Even with their limited resources, the young founders of the Land of Childhood managed to build a working ferris wheel underground. © UNICEF/UN041520/Alshami

This remarkable underground playground is a testament to the parents, community members and children in Syria who aren’t giving up. They’re determined to survive and rebuild their lives and UNICEF is there with them every step of the way. This year, we’re reaching 5.8 million children in Syria with essential supplies like medicine, clean water and vaccinations that they need to survive and grow.

They play in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh

These Rohingya children finally have something to smile about. 

They've witnessed extreme violence, fled from their homes and been robbed of their childhoods. But this UNICEF 'child-friendly space' is helping them feel safe and play together in peace. We've set up dozens of these spaces in Bangladesh and, with more than 350,000 children stuck in the chaos, we'll keep working until every child has the chance to smile again.
© UNICEF Australia/Matthew Smeal
© UNICEF/UN0126491/Brown / © UNICEF/UN062748/Nybo 
“I love jumping rope, drawing pictures and playing the tambourine,” says Asia (left). She can do all three at UNICEF-supported child friendly spaces at the camp for Rohingya refugees where she now lives.

They play in the dusty plains of a refugee camp in Lake Chad

The dusty ground and blistering heat are no match for these children and their desire to play. Many families in this refugee camp in Chad have lost their homes and seen unspeakable violence. But right now, at the UNICEF-supported School of Peace, hundreds of children have a safe and supportive space to make friends and rebuild. They deserve nothing less.
© UNICEF/UN0120144/Sokhin
© UNICEF/UN067751/Sokhin

They play in the rubble of their homes

Nothing will bring back Saja’s home in Aleppo, Syria, but when there’s a football in front of her she’s full of hope again. “I love playing football,” she says. “When I play, I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything at all. Nothing will stand in my way.”

UNICEF makes sure more of the world’s children are educated than any other organisation. We use this expertise every day in Syria to help children stay in school, play safely and plan their futures. In 2016, we helped increase school enrolment by 8% despite the huge obstacles presented by ongoing violence.
Conflict in Syria has caused young Saja so much suffering but she’s looking to the future with determination. © UNICEF/UN055883/Al-Issa

For girls like Saja, a chance to learn, play and recover means everything. “Since the beginning of the war, my life has changed,” she says. “We left our home. We were displaced more than five times. My biggest fear is when I am alone remembering my injury and my brother’s death. I feel sad and scared. I find some difficulties but not a lot.” Watch Saja’s story of incredible loss and courage here.

They play in bright, happy child-friendly spaces in war-torn Iraq

Chronic violence and life under siege has stopped millions of Iraq’s children from learning, playing and having a good childhood. After spending years on the move in search of safety or growing up in the chaos of displacement camps, UNICEF’s ‘child-friendly spaces’ are a welcome refuge.

Children learn and draw together at a temporary tent site in Debaga Camp. © UNICEF/UN036092/Mackenzie

They’re safe and welcoming places where children can escape from the danger of their past and the confusion of life in the camp. A chance to get psychosocial care and recover from trauma. A place filled with songs, games and budding friendships.
UNICEF has worked hard to meet the needs of the growing population displaced by violence in Iraq, delivering emergency aid and making sure children could play and learn. © UNICEF/UN017051/Khuzaie
10-year-old Zayneb chose rainbow facepaint to celebrate the opening of a 'child-friendly space' in Iraq. © UNICEF/UN017049/Khuzaie

This Christmas, help children in conflict play, learn and survive

We hear about children in war zones on the news every night. Children who’ve lost their parents, friends and homes to violence. These children deserve our shock and our grief but more than anything, they deserve our help. Please keep a child learning and playing through crisis with a generous donation this Christmas.
UNICEF teams are crossing battle lines every day to deliver emergency health care, water and nutrition and help children learn and play. This Christmas, we need your help to protect children in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and more of the world's worst conflict zones.

Please donate to deliver life-changing support to children in danger.

When you donate to UNICEF, you’re working towards a future we can all support: where children in the world’s most dangerous places can still learn, play and have some semblance of the childhood they deserve. If that's something you can believe in, please donate to make it possible.