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Play in a box: A low-cost modular playground for refugee camps.

Use play as a means to help children and their families bridge conflicts, build friendships and cope with the trauma of displacement.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

We shared the user experience map with the Shisto Refugee Camp & the Develop Athens refugee community through a co-design session with the teachers and a user testing session with the parents and children. We learned that in order to build trust we should start by engaging parents with PLAY IN A BOX versus the educators which is what we had initially designed for. Full map+insights:

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

As we talked to refugees, administrators, NGOs and educators inside the greek camps we heard the same story: Thousands of children are trying to stay resilient, bereft of their homes, their safety and their own childhood. Their need for joy, friendship and play is urgent and paramount to their emotional, physical and cognitive health. But camp life for refugee children means that, while they have already experienced serious traumas, they still remain in a condition of tension, conflict and violence, in a world of angry, traumatized and scared adults. Children are in the middle of these tensions, negotiations and everyday struggle. Even though all the stakeholders involved agree: everyone wants to build bridges in the camp community- they lack the tools to do so. PLAY IN A BOX is a tool for building social relationships, targeted to children and their caretakers, while empowering the community to shape the camp environment literally and metaphorically as one of peace and friendship.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

What we learned from working in Shisto is that the main focus in a camp is survival and perseverance, and as a result the space is not designed with community building in mind, but with survivorship. Designed with the best intentions, this liminal spaces of survival might amplify tensions, mental stress and uncertainty specifically for children. Information is targeted to adults in the form of commands and rules. This continued sense of threat perpetuates the memories of war, fear and chaos.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

In contrast to the liminal space of a camp and the systematic issues that cause tensions, as described above, PLAY IN A BOX with its modular components aims to empower young children to create their own space of self expression and co-existence. Moreover PLAY IN A BOX really integrates the community, the families and camp stakeholders in building together spaces of trust; inclusive magic circles of play and friendship.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

The goal is to see real impact within a year of the program through: 1) the strengthening of community relationships in the camp between families, admins, educators. 2) play being used successfully to promote mental health, alleviate tension and create opportunities of empathy between refugee children of different backgrounds and local children Beyond BridgeBuilder support we are working on a sustainable business model that we hope can help us scale to camps worldwide (see attached)

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

During this phase we tested with the refugee community in Greece the following assumptions. Onboarding: Children need help and guidance to start constructing the playground. Design: Children respond better to puzzle pieces that are brightly colored or feature a character. Community: Parents might be hesitant to participate. We learned that: Onboarding is important for creating games, not the structure. As a result we prototyped a "play-journal" with one of the camp teachers. Children really enjoy colors and characters like animals. It was fun watching the children trying to recreate an animal with the kit. Parents are REALLY eager to participate. This completely changed our user experience map in fact. We realized that by giving a parent the role of "play-leader" children build trust between them and engaged more freely in the activity. In addition this worked as an icebreaker for families of different ethnic and religious backgrounds who connected for the first time.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

Attached a visual and the details of our 3 year timeline.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

We have a core team that consists of experts in play, design, research and content development, the refugee community in our camp partners (Shisto and Mytilini), and a manufacturing partner that will produce the first round of product. In addition we have a team of advisors from large organizations like IRC & Unicef who we can pull in to help and a list of local partner organizations like DNC and the Melissa Network. Please refer to the visual for how our team is structured as well as short bios

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

1) Multiple prototypes with more durable and eco friendly materials. We have identified a manufacturing partner and are ready to start this process. 2) A first round of 100 boxes incl. training to be piloted in 2 camps in Greece: Shisto & Mytilini. 3) A pilot in collaboration with an NGO program on the ground like DNC and the Melissa Network. 4) Pending on how much funding we get a second round of 1000 boxes to be piloted in more camps in Greece, Lebanon &Tanzania in partnership with IRC

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

1) Community building: even though we envision this solution as a plug & play, we realize there needs to be an embedded community program through a partnership with local orgs that helps foster play as a tool for peace in the camps, either by having refugee parents lead playtime or educators help. We would like further advice on what to avoid and what to design for. 2) Business Development: we are committed to not make this a one off product/project. We do want to sustainably scale this project so it lives beyond one off funding and becomes part of what every NGO sends to a refugee camp within the first 48 hours of a crisis. We have been tinkering with various ideas on how to do that and would love further feedback. 3) Resources/Challenges: Are we missing some important resource? What do you think will be the largest challenge or struggle with making this project actually happen. Is there an opportunity for tapping to an existing resource that we don't know off?

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

The user testing told us we need to design an experience that starts with the parents in the camp. This was a complete 180 from where we had started- with an experience that started with the educator or the counselor. We not only noticed a much higher buy-in from the community but also it literally was a way for the different communities in Shisto (afghan & syrian families, educators, councelors etc) to come together and bond through play. We also learned that fostering a relationship with the educator is especially important as it keeps the kids attending school- a big challenge currently in camps nationwide, which is a huge indicator for the prosperity of refugee children. Two points that stood out: 1) how much we should focus on advocacy; even though play IS a human right, the international development space doesn't always see it as a priority. 2) how to leverage more clearly in the user experience map the existing systems like NGOs so we don't have to do everything ourselves.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

This has been a really helpful process for us so thanks to everyone for their feedback- it's especially encouraging and inspiring to be part of this community and no matter what we hope we can make this project a reality in the future and collaborate with teams we met here. Here are four things that the experts, community leaders and the amazing community here at OpenIdeo suggested we highlight as we wrap up this process: A) IMPACT: With the funds we are seeking more than 10,000 refugee children and their families will get access to play as a means for bridging bridges, forming friendships and coping with the trauma of displacement and conflict. B) PARTNERSHIPS: A big part of our idea is to embed PLAY IN A BOX within existing systems and community programs. We plan to do that by partnering with UN agencies and NGOs on the ground in a few ways: 1) Through customizing large orders for the box to serve each organizations goals, for example an IRC box could be about Social Emotional Learning and so on. 2) Through supporting local programs and integrating in those versus running everything ourselves. 3) Through working with their existing distribution channels; our hope is that PLAY IN A BOX becomes a new "standard" and is shipped to camps within the first 48 hours of a crisis, in the same way necessities as tents and first response kits are. C) MATERIALS: We have used this time to prototype materials and have identified a manufacturing partner that will create a custom eco friendly material for us that is both durable and light- a challenging set of specs. Attached an image that show how the new materials work. D) VALUE PROP: We wanted to finally highlight the Value Proposition for this project. How is this the best solution for refugee camps and what does PLAY IN A BOX do differently that existing solutions do not address? 1) LOW COST: Traditional playgrounds cost an average of 25K and serve about 25 kids at a time. Even if recyclable materials are used like with the very inspiring project Play for Peace, the costs for supervising the construction and sourcing and repurposing materials is still high. With more alternative solutions like the beautiful Imagination Playground, also a modular playground; the costs (~10K) is also really high to be even realistic for a refugee community. PLAY IN A BOX will cost 50$ and will serve 10 kids at a time. That means that for the same money you would spend on a traditional playground you could serve 4000 kids. 2) CREATIVE: Unlike traditional playgrounds that are rigid structures kids have to play around and not with, PLAY IN A BOX is modular; kids can literally make anything out of it and with the game activities they are empowered to invent their own play and literally transform the space to be theirs. In addition because the product so modular and creative it becomes also cultural and gender agnostic allowing for various interpretations for different populations, so the community can make it really theirs. 3) DURABLE, EASY TO PACK, MOVE & STORE: this is a constant problem for refugee communities- things getting lost, being bulky, hard to pack and store. PLAY IN A BOX takes literally 3 minutes to pack and unpack and is stored in a flat box. Moreover it's light materials make it easy to carry and durable in tough weather circumstances. 4) MADE WITH REFUGEES FOR REFUGEES. Many play solutions are made for someone else and then repurposed for the refugee community. It's quite common for Greeks for example to donate toys, books and board games to organizations that work with refugee kids. But as the parents told us (and the kids themselves) sometimes these products, books and games are just not really relevant to them; culturally, aesthetically or content-wise. Our idea literally came out of our work with the refugee community- and when it is completed it will be theirs to play with however they like. 5) A BRIDGE FOR PEACE AND PROSPERITY: we have elaborated on this point throughout our proposal but in a sentence: play is a tested method for getting communities in conflict to come together and build friendships that will help this community persevere in this enormous adversity they are facing. To conclude here is an expert from Bernie Dekovens legendary Playful Path book "Kids play because they have to. It’s how they learn the world, how they grow, how they cope. For kids, play is life. " We hope you will help us bring life to this community that has gone through so much and deserves so much more.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

The largest change is that we are now using eco-friendly materials so our idea covers all three sectors; peace, prosperity and planet.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

We have worked with the refugee community in Greece and have heard again and again how camps can often be spaces of tension between different religious and ethnic groups, with children often caught in the middle and been left disconnected from their peers and family. When visiting camps we observed that no matter the differences of their guardians kids would always find a way to connect with each other through play. And parents would often join in too. But only few of the camps have spaces for kids to play. Play is so important to children’s development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (1989) recognizes it as a basic human right of every child. We have spoken to a dozen NGOs who are working with refugees including the International Rescue Committee, Unicef and the Danish Refugee Council and they all agree. EVERYONE agrees that having play spaces in refugee camps would have a HUGE impact when it comes to building bridges between communities, coping with trauma and even developing 21st skills. There is one problem; playgrounds are really expensive. The average cost of a playground is 25K. And a typical playground can only serve up to 25-30 kids at a time. Pending on their size refugee camps average 100-400 kids. And it’s not only the money. Here’s what we have heard from tens of camp administrators in Greece: +Playgrounds often end up vandalized making it an unworthy investment. +When traditional playgrounds exists they can be dangerous, because most play is unsupervised. +Children engage in conflict as to who will use the space and equipment. Play in a box is a low cost and modular playground that kids can assemble anywhere and use to create their own games together with their peers and family. It's made from eco friendly materials that are durable and light weight. Each box serves up to 10 kids and costs as low as 50$. That means that for the same money you would spend on a traditional playground you could serve 4000kids

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Children ages 4+ and their guardians who have been displaced starting in Shisto, Athens and Mytilini, Greece. The product could be places in other refugee communities around the world. We have been in contact with communities in Lebanon and Tanzania. They will benefit by 1) Building stronger relationships with their peers and guardians by playing together (which has been our approach so far in all the test sessions we have run with great success) 2) Gaining engineering skills to construct the playground pieces and design their own games 3) Mitigating conflict and building friendships with other populations in the camp or outside the camp with local populations with whom there might be tensions with.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Play in a box came as a response to a direct need we heard again and again in the refugee community. From the start we talked to camp administrators, educators, refugee parents and kids to gain insights and co-design our first prototype. As we looked for existing solutions i.e. making a kit out of simple balls, hoola hoops and used toys or creating a simple playground with reused materials we kept hitting the same challenge: everything was REALLY expensive and most importantly hard to scale to something that can be send to a camp in the same flat box a tent or first aid kit is sent. Moreover what does our solution does differently? in the words of Homza one of the refugee mothers we user tested our prototype with "I like that with PLAY IN THE BOX my kids don't just play, they use their brain too to make their own games" and in the words of Benjamin one of the refugee children we tested with "When we play we are all friends, wherever we come from."

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

humans who play is a design company passionate about using play as a force for innovation and doing good. We have worked with organizations like the IRC, The World Bank, Girls Who Code and have launched products with Mozilla, littleBits and Stop, Breathe & Think. We believe that play is in our DNA; it’s how we understand the world around us, tinker with new ideas and form meaningful relationships.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

I was catching up with a friend (Maria, now a team member) who we used to run a street games festival together and who was now very involved in the refugee work happening in Greece. She was talking about the difficulties in the camps, how there are so many children and no play opportunities as well as the tensions between groups. We talked about how well the street game festival had worked to bring people together in a quick easy way. What if we could do something similar in the refugee camps?

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace is influenced by religious and geopolitical tensions inside the refugee camps as well as within the urban communities that refugees in Athens are currently relocating. Prosperity has been impacted by war and the need to relocate from ones home as well as the lack of forward thinking education. For example there is a lack of creative or STEM focused education for refugee camps in Greece, as the educators who run these programs in the Municipality of Athens have told us. Most of the education focuses on learning english following very traditional learning models that leave kids disengaged. Finally we heard this from refugee kids, especially youth- again and again; they feel disconnected with local kids and families and it is difficult for them to envision a life of prosperity when they feel so secluded from the rest of the society and peers in the co

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We are fortunate to have an Advisory Council with experts from larger organizations such as the International Rescue Committee and Unicef who have helped us understand what a user experience would look like as well as the opportunities for designing play activities for guardians and kids to do together. On a local level the Danish Refugee Council as well as the Shisto Camp Educators in Athens have helped us with testing the product with Syrian and Afghan kids and would like to continue with a formal pilot. The Municipality of Athens and the Childrens' Museum in Athens have worked with us to provide feedback and run workshops with Afghan urban refugee families and understand the challenges of inner city conflicts. Finally the Collab Manufacturing Studio in NY has provided support to build our prototype and source the next round of materials. At the core of everything we do is working directly with the communities we serve. Examples here:

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Refugee families in Greece are resilient, compassionate and ready to overcome the barriers that have been placed in front of them to connect with each other and thrive in the society that is now their home. Parents in Shisto are seeking opportunities to do activities with their kids and for them to feel integrated in the camp and the city. Inherently playful, children are the best ambassadors for building bridges through play and creating new opportunities for peace.

Geographic Focus

Our initial pilot will be in Greece; we also have gotten interest from camps in Lebanon.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We have an initial 24 month timeline for 100 kits with the goal to scale to 1000 afterwards: 6 months to finalize/test materials and build 2nd Prototype (we have a manufacturer) 3 months to test and iterate on the 2nd Prototype 6 months to manufacture 100 Play in a Box kits & distribute in the camp (through a partner ngo like DNC or IRC) 6 months to pilot across camps in Greece (with the goal of reaching 1000 kids) 3 months to create a report of findings and plan next round of manufacturing

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

Attachments (1)


Material samples: we are thinking of using an eco-friendly honeycomp structure as a sandwich between two pieces of low cost and water resistant materials such as foam, wood-chips and laminated cardboard.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Patricia

Dear Chloe Varelidi ,

Congratulations on a great project! The power of play is so important for young people affected by conflict. It sounds like your next year will be quite exciting with developing and scaling this project.

Have you seen the "Ideas Box" distributed by Libraries Without Borders ( They have been piloted here in Iraq and a variety of other places to great results! We'd be happy to connect you to them if you're interested in learning more.

Photo of googlemail guide

I've read your entire information that you stocks in your article and I must say I love it. Many thanks for writing this post. I appreciate it.

Photo of Richard Seshie

Love your idea Chloe, you may want to look at this opportunity too

Photo of Kevin McCann

I think this is a great idea and I wish you success with it. I used to teach English at a social club for migrants and refugees in London, and one of the things that always struck me was the way in which children from an amazingly diverse range of backgrounds were eminently capable of causing good-natured chaos together. It was great, and I think your project really speaks to this truth.

One comment/question I'd have - and please forgive my ignorance of child psychology - are there culturally different types of play? Ie I wonder if in future iterations you might be able to have boxes that contain parts that relate to but bring together children from different parts of the world. I know I said that kids connect no matter what (and this is obviously what your research says as well) but perhaps you could even explicitly used different configurations to bring local and refugee children together so they can learn about each others' background. Just an idea!

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thanks Kevin! I love the idea of good natured chaos, I will use the term from now on :) And that is a great question. So the research tells us that play patterns for young children are pretty similar and common across cultures for the simple reason that developmentally kids go through similar stages. So for example pretend play or construction play which is the pattern we are mainly using with PLAY IN A BOX would hopefully appeal across cultures. That said! Kids at the age of 5 start more social games, and those are very tied to the culture. So what we are trying to do with older kids is to encourage them to build their own games, inspired by their environment versus impose on them existing games. What do you think?

Photo of Kulaniakea

Chloe, I would second Kevin's post and strongly recommend to ground your work in families and children's culture. They are not just losing their homes, childhoods, safe environemnt. They are also being interrupted in the development of their cultural identities, language, and traditions. Providing universal play might be just a baseline requirement to survive; and you are right, you can meet it with the shared play. However, in order to thrive, they need more than just play. I know it's a lot of work. However, please do consider in your next stage of development to go deeper than just play. These playgrounds can be a vehicle of so much more.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

hi Kulaniakea 100%- thank you for the feedback and YES! play is just the beginning. It's a pathway to learning, building friendships and 21st century skills. One idea we have is to embed a "PLAY JOURNAL" to the experience, that helps children use play to not only connect with others but also reflect on their designs and iterate on their ideas. Have you heard of Anji play? their philosophy really speaks to our approach
thanks again!

Photo of Brian Bauer

Chloe Varelidi Hi Chole, I hope your proposal is going excellent.

I just came across a WEF video that discusses the underlying psychology of why play is so important for younger children. I think the video does a really good job of validating the critical importance of play for children in marginalized environments...I just wanted to share the video-link below and wish you the best of luck finishing up your proposal. Cheers, Brian

Photo of Kathleen Rommel

Hi there,

What exciting feedback about incorporating parents more heavily! It's amazing what this level of engagement can provide—including things as seemingly small as giving parents common ground to speak to other parents about their experiences, too. I'm impressed with your ability to incorporate this feedback into your programmatic approach, and you do a nice job of articulating the shifts you made, and why. Great job on this proposal update!


Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thank you so much Kathleen! we truly learned A LOT from the beneficiary feedback and are excited to implement in the next phase of the project.

Photo of Aline Sara

Hi Chloe,
Congratulations on your work and making it to the next phase! I love that this project is looking at the importance of thinking beyond survival mode and recognizing the importance of letting everyone live a childhood that encapsulates all aspects of learning, having fun, and being part of a community.
Regarding your questions:
1) Community building: even though we envision this solution as a plug & play, we realize there needs to be a community program that helps foster play as a tool for peace in the camps, either by having refugee parents lead playtime or educators help. We have been testing some program ideas the refugee community had but would like further advice on what to avoid and what to design for.

That’s a good issue to think about. I think it’s critical to build networks on the ground and leverage both local and International NGOs. I also would love to hear more about the testing/pilot phase, and how likely the community is to use the product, so this might be something to think about more, especially as you look to become self-sustainable. Also, are there no other existing games that might be used to bring the same set of benefits mentioned? It seems a lot of what you are trying to bring to children is their opportunity to in fact be children—to play, to play games with others, to play games that also foster their cognitive and intellectual development. I’m not expert in child development, but would it be conceivable that other such toys and boxes already exist on the market and include these attributes? Would there be a way to imagine a way to use or recycle already existing toys/used toys that can be donated to save capital costs?

2) Business Development: we are committed to not make this a one off product/project. We do want to sustainably scale this project so it lives beyond one off funding and becomes part of what every NGO sends to a refugee camp within the first 48 hours of a crisis. We have been tinkering with various ideas on how to do that and would love further feedback.

I think this would come within the negotiations with NGOs directly and making sure your product fits their programming. Have you heard of Libraries without Borders? I think they have a similar project to yours with something related to education and reading. Might be interesting to reach out to them in case you haven't!

3) Resources/Challenges: Are we missing some important resource? What do you think will be the largest challenge or struggle with making this project actually happen. Is there an opportunity for tapping to an existing resource that we don't know off?

While I'm not an expert, I think sustainability and convincing people of the urgency of your idea might come up as a challenge. Perhaps, your key is partnering with organizations and integrating your idea into their programs for children. Have you considered looking into what the IRC/Sesame Workshop are doing? It might be interesting to explore already existing children/community building programming and building/adapting in line with what they are doing.
I think that overall, the challenge is much larger and more systematic of the humanitarian space—that organizations don’t have enough resources to consider children’s play as as important as other needs, like livelihoods, or food and shelter. It might be worth tapping into large toy companies to see if they would partner with you as part of their social good/CSR initiatives. This could possibly create more sustainable avenues for funding.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

hi Aline Sara  thanks so much for this thorough feedback and the encouragement. I ll try to answer the questions as much as I can :)

For the testing/pilot the main takeaway was that instead of trying to introduce this through the NGOs/educators and generally speaking the part of the camp that is considered the “others” it is best to start with the parents. That ensures buy-in and that they will actually not only use the product with their kids but lead game-making sessions as we witnessed with different user testing groups. In addition the chances of different populations in the camp that normally would not talk to each other to come together are much higher- again because the experience is much more organic and the product literally takes up and transforms the space into something positive.

With regards to existing solutions: SUCH A GREAT POINT!! In fact the first version of this was a box that included balls, hole hoops, used toys- things you could already find that we would prompt the kids to make games with. It was a disaster- things got lost, its really expensive actually to gather all these items and complicated to package in a kit, then getting the individual child safety permissions. And also when it comes to cheap toys- its really all plastic all the time. We wanted to avoid that (our solution uses 100% eco friendly materials through our manufacturer) as well as create something that literally would transform the space and is large enough that its difficult to get lost but easy to move around.

With regards to the challenge you are seeing- the advocacy needed to convince people in the international development space of the importance of play (the UN after all has declared it a human right) this is 100% our struggle so far and why we have started to think of creating alternative business models- for example partnering with a large org like IRC who would distribute the boxes and oversee the program implementation in support with what they are doing on the ground BUT securing long term funding through a consumer model, a one to one or other form of direct sale that doesn’t rely on us needing to do that level of advocacy to secure continuing funding. I truly hope that the OpenIdeo platform will recognize this struggle and help us at least fund this first round so we can start showing instead of imagining the really impactful results.

Hope this answered some of your points, thank you so much once again- this is truly helpful to discuss with someone who had expertise in the field.

Photo of Matthias Scheffelmeier

Dear Play in a Box team,
the psycho-social needs of refugee children is a hugely important topic and our global society will face challenges for decades to come if we do not pay close attention to the psychological needs of children displaced by war and crisis. So, thank you for your effort! I also do think you've put in a great deal of work into designing the box and the games - I'm sure it's fun to play indeed and can provide children with a few hours of fun, connection to others and a sense of community. What I feel is lacking though and what would be my area of focus is the need to embed this a lot more into existing systems, structures and processes at the refugee camps and/or the environment of your target group. The box itself won't be enough, there' also be the need for psycho-social counselling (maybe even therapy) and very close guidance of the children as they recover from trauma - my spontaneous inspiration is to integrate this into existing efforts of UN agencies and such and provide your product/service to other entities instead of creating a program/project of it's own. You'll probably face difficulties becoming an expert in all areas from the box to the counselling to the ongoing support of the children. Why not position yourself as a product/service design thinking platform that produces and co-creates products like the box in partnership with existing entities that can then distribute, embed your product and/or run your activities? Thanks again for the work you do. Best wishes

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thank you @MatthiasScheffelmeir for the encouragement and for this *really* useful feedback. You are very right that we can’t be experts in everything and this is something we certainly don’t aspire to do.

So it might not be clear from the description but we have been considering this pathway of partnering with organizations on the ground, the Danish Refugee Council is one of our current partners at Shisto for example and having their support in the implementation has been invaluable.

The challenge we have faced with that approach so far- is that our project works *much* better when the parents are directly involved in the way the box is used by their community versus having someone like the counselor or educator of the camp introduce it. This could be solved perhaps by outlining this user experience for potential partners in the space, so it doesn’t feel top-down and it genuinely addresses the conflicts that are part of the camps reality. What do you think?

Another idea in this realm has been to provide custom PLAY IN A BOX solutions / or services as you have suggested, that support the work of larger UN agencies or organizations like IRC, Unicef, Oxfam etc The idea being that each box could be branded for that organization and support for example SEL skills if its IRC and so on. Is that something you think people would be interested in?

What are other ways you think we could integrate better in the existing systems?

Photo of iACT

Hi Chloe! In this refinement phase, you talk about the importance of including parents as the "play-leader". I'm curious as to how parents are selected and empowered to be "play-leaders"? I apologize for the question if you've already addressed this! Thank you! It's been really interesting to learn about your idea!

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

*Great* question iACT thank you for asking it! The way we have done it so far during user testing is have each parent lead a small group of 3 kids, they start by playing a game that is already familiar to them and then we ask them to remix that same game using the PLAY IN A BOX materials. During the user testing we didn't explicitly assign parents that role but saw them take it upon themselves. In fact they came up with this idea of play leaders or coaches to help kids make larger structures and invent group games. I hope that answers your question.

Photo of Christina Schwanke

“Friendship…is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…'” —The Four Loves

“What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.” CS Lewis

Chloe Varelidi I read these quotes the other day and it made me think of your project. I have been in some less than desirable situations with people that I don't think I would have otherwise known. The process of survival and the deep love for our families has produced unlikely friendships. Deep, tested, long-lasting friendships. I hope your project can bring the same joy to others.


Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Those are such a beautiful quotes Christine, thank you so much for sharing <3

Photo of Kathleen Rommel

Hi Chloe,

What a great idea! I love how you're helping visualize all the different outcomes in your (draft) user map. What may really bring it to life is a breakout of a best-case scenario—putting a name and a face to the child and their family (the photos you include for prototyping seem like great inspiration for this), so we can walk along with them as they reach the goals you outline and see the ripple effect. For example, if a child receives Play in a Box, plays with it for a given time, and the project succeeds, yes, they'll feels confident. This could perhaps mean they then perform better in school, have more friends which creates resilience to trauma, etc. I know this is a work in progress at this stage, so forgive me if this is something you've already thought of. Either way, keep up the great work, and I love how you've outlined the multiple ways your users could respond to the box!

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Hi @kathleenrommel - thank you SO much for reviewing it. Great feedback, we incorporated your idea with a user journey that shows how the best case scenario might look like- including how we can support the users' needs. Take a look at the attachment and let us know what you think :)

Photo of Kathleen Rommel

I love this addition! Great work!!!

Photo of Anubha Sharma

Hi Chloe,
wonderful idea! It is so important for children to have space and tools to play with and with your prototype they will learn other skills too. You are so right to observe that kids find a way to connect even when their families are in conflict, your play tools will lend more opportunities for the same. Its wonderful that you have excellent collaborators and advisers. Wish you all the best for success in your plans.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thank you so much @Anubha Sharma

Photo of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO)

Hi Chloe! Wow, very impressive work! The refugee crisis is such a widespread problem, and there are camps all around the world. Do you have plans to expand this project, perhaps even to camps that geographically closer to the major places from where these refugees are displaced?

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thank you @SHOFCO - that means a lot, we really admire the work you do as well. We have gotten interest in other communities in Lebanon and Turkey, even in Tanzania. We would ofcourse love to scale our impact in those communities too. The box is flat so the hope is that it could literally fit in the first response supplies that get sent to a camp for example by UNHRC in those first 48 hours of a crisis.

Photo of Nicole Ballou

Hi Chloe Varelidi !

I just read through your submission - it is so awe inspiring! It's great to see how much you've engaged with the on-the-ground-staff, as well as used past learnings, to design this idea. Continue the great work, and good luck!


Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thank you so much Nicole for the encouragement, we hope we can make the idea a reality through this challenge.

Photo of Kurt Davis

What a great way to bring happiness to kids in a displaced region. My partner would love this Ntumba Tshilombo . lets build in Kakuma immediately. . Please email us and . Also see our project. I also have a friend in Greece now you should meet. She is at a refugee camp

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thank you Kurt for your kind words, I really love your work at Kakuma too- especially how it involved the local community. Our team member Ariam Mogos  has also worked with Kakuma i believe, maybe there are ways to work together. Here is my email: chloe [ at] humanswhoplay [dot] com

Photo of Christine

HI Chloe,
I also love this idea. I am an exhibit developer for museums, and we are always looking for ways to engage visitors and create social cohesion through play. If you haven't already you might consider looking at children's museums for inspiration. Here are a few links to some interesting museum projects.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

hi @christine ! thank you for the links, i used to design exhibitions many years ago so i really appreciate the precedents you sent over. I live in DC and have been to the NBM exhibit many times with my daughter, we love it! Do you live here too? Definitely an inspiration- it's a similar approach but hopefully we can make PLAY IN A BOX much more affordable (Imagination Playground costs thousands:/) Thanks again, would love to hear more about your work some time especially if you live in the area too :)

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

hi all just an update here re: materials, as many of you have asked about them. We just got some samples from our factory and are excited to start working with a special waterproof cardboard as well as an eco material that resembles light weight wood. Not sure I can leave photos here but ince the edit function is available again i can share pics. Thanks again to all for the great feedback :)

Photo of Jesse Lindsley

Chloe - I love your idea and I hope you are able to figure out the ideal solution. I remember coming across this project a couple years ago on Kickstarter and they were able to launch their company: - Unfortunately, these cardboard toys are very expensive (and probably too big), but I thought it could serve as some good creative inspiration as it's a neat thought that children facing so much uncertainty could get inside a cardboard toy and feel free to escape their surroundings for a bit and play.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

hey @jesselindsey thank you so much for sharing- i had NOT seen this product- great inspiration. I love the character and story like quality of the playhouses.

Photo of Arafat

Hi Chloe Varelidi this is such a thoughtful project, particularly since refugee needs are often perceived to be nothing more than the bare essentials of survival. My team really appreciates the empathy behind this project.

Some of the questions we encountered reading through your proposal had to do with materials and sourcing. As you said a traditional playground costs a lot more than Play in a Box and only accommodates a limited number of children. However, if the Play in a Box is not durable (it looks like it is made of cardboard in the pictures), won't a conventional playground be more cost effective and environmentally friendly in the long run? Especially since the Play in a Box unit seems small which makes it seem like a large number of units will have to be produced and provided to refugee populations. My team and I were just wondering about the long-term utility and environmental cost of this project.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Hey Arafat thank you & yes! that's a great question/point that is top of our mind too. We used cardboard to prototype super fast and test the idea but we are currently exploring different materials that would keep this low cost but as you said make it extra durable and! light. It's an exciting challenge :)

Photo of abubakar Mbarak

This is a wonderful idea, i believe playing provides proper engagement and help children and their guardians come closer.
keep up the good work.

Photo of Dr. Jin Lee

As a child psychologist I really like your idea of promoting early child development. BabyNoggin helps screen for potential delays in kids under age 8. Here’s our submission: If you are interested in collaborating, please email us at

Photo of Gi

I loved the idea! These panels can fit together and, as they fit together, create different scenarios, allowing integration between children from different countries. It would be like learning that by putting together distinct parts, they create wonderful experiences. To teach that we human beings complete ourselves in the measure of our differences. All this, for the simple fact of playing together and building something, after the traumatic experience of the destruction, that they left behind.

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Hi @Gi i hadn't thought about that, i love the metaphor :) thank you for suggesting it!

Photo of Abby Nydam

This project makes me smile! I wish you the best with seeing this through.

I am working on bringing solar power to small fisheries in rural Bangladesh. Take a look if you are interested...

Photo of Emily Kruger

I love this idea! I believe so fully in everything you wrote about play and it's inspiring to know that you all exist and have found that folks who have been displaced due to traumatic experiences agree that play is awesome. I have a couple thoughts that jump to mind!

What is the box and all its parts made from?? Where do the resources come from? Is it durable? What would happen to the box and all of the parts if it were broken? Or over-used? I'm thinking about products traditionally made from lots of raw materials that are not recycled nor recyclable nor compostable. I'm also thinking about groups who donate sports equipment (esp. soccer balls) that then breaks or wears quickly and becomes more waste in places that do not have effective waste management systems in place. Curious to hear what you all think about these things!

Photo of Chloe Varelidi

Thanks Emily for the thoughtful questions, we have the same worries re: materials! For the prototype we looked at cardboard and foam as easy and low cost parts to source and build something fast so we could just test the idea in the camps. For the next iteration we are sourcing (and actually creating with a manufacturing partner) sturdier materials that are also eco friendly and light- it's a tough combo but we definitely agree that creating something that adds more waste is not sustainable.