State of play: school playgrounds from Kenya to Japan

Sep 21, 2014 by

Situated in a remote area on rough terrain 3,000m above sea level, the school has two teachers and 31 students aged from six to 12 years. Many students have to walk several miles to school. A road to the village was built only 15 years ago and there are no cars or buses. Most people are indigenous Quechua peasant farmers.

Half of the students go on to secondary school, of whom half again go to university in Santa Cruz. A few years ago, an ecological toilet was installed; the children are now teaching their parents and grandparents about the advantages of using such toilets. The school building was small and dishevelled compared with the smart ecological toilets (built by Unicef). There was a big football field and the grass is kept short by goats. I had just missed the afternoon break, but the headteacher said it would be fine to give the kids another 10 minutes outside. The entire school came out; the boys played football while the girls played tug of war.

Likoni school for the blind
Likoni school for the blind. Likoni, Mombasa, Kenya, photographed 25 March 2011. Photograph: James Mollison Photograph: James Mollison

Likoni school for the blind
Likoni, Mombasa, Kenya, photographed 25 March 2011

This school has 166 students. Many of them were born with albinism, a condition that often leads to visual impairments. Some sighted students who also have albinism are sent to the school to protect them from kidnapping by agents of witch doctors in Tanzania, where it is believed that body parts of people with the condition can bring wealth.

The students go home to their villages for a visit every three months. The school tries to allow students to move at their own pace and not force them to leave when they get to a certain age. Blind people receive no support once they leave school. A friendly head teacher welcomed us in. Hearing about the trade in body parts, I felt shocked and sad as we sat with the intrigued pupils, who wanted to touch our faces and camera. It was a particularly bright, hot day and the kids had only hats for protection. The boys played boisterous games, spinning the merry-go-round as fast as they could, trying to fling people off it, and feeling their way around the climbing frames.

Nativity School. South Central Los Angeles, US, photographed 10 November 2011
Nativity School. South Central Los Angeles, US, photographed 10 November 2011. Photograph: James Mollison

Nativity School
South Central Los Angeles, US, photographed 10 November 2011

Founded by the Sisters of Loretto in 1924, this Catholic school has 330 students and is in a low-income area with a high crime rate. There have been several drive-by shootings nearby and once a stray bullet went through a wall. The school is private and charges $210 a month, but 65% of the students are unable to pay the full amount. It is a struggle to get enough money to pay the teachers.

When I was 16, living in tranquil north Oxford in the UK, NWA released Straight Outta Compton. LA sounded like a pretty scary place. I wondered what Ice Cube’s school would have been like. So we set out to find schools in South Central Los Angeles; Nativity was the only one that said yes. The area has seen an influx of Latinos, who seemed to be the majority at the school. In the break, a group played dodgeball, a game I loved at school. Next to me some kids sold nachos to other students, raising money for the school.

State of play: school playgrounds from Kenya to Japan | Art and design | The Guardian.

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