Growing Parks, growing people

2013-11-06 00:00

FARHANA Vally’s search for a safe playground for her children has led her to places she would never have imagined.

Primarily, she has turned an overgrown park lost to crime and illicit liaisons into a secure place for children to play and city residents to relax. But along the way she has also created jobs and empowered communities.

Recently, she was named national Community Builder of the Year 2013 at the 12th Black Business Quarterly (BBQ) Awards held at Emperor’s Palace in Ekurhuleni.

The awards recognise BBBEE companies and entrepreneurs that have helped redress inequality, boosted economic growth and have created a better life for all.

An occupational therapist by profession, Vally says that she understands better than most the value of play for children.

She has worked with children in informal settlements around Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, where instead of the requisite therapy balls, swings and other developmental play equipment, she was forced to improvise with chairs and scarves, and tape on the floor to represent actual objects.

“Play is not just fun, it’s vital,” she says, referring to a TED Talk by pioneering researcher on play, Dr Stuart Brown (, who has shown that it is fundamentally linked with human development and intelligence.

She says community parks provide places for children to play and should be free and safe. “Children shouldn’t be deprived of the opportunity to play.”

Vally says the Hatcheries Park in Pietermaritzburg presented an opportunity to be such a place for children; it “just needed to be uncovered so that people could come into it”.

“Spaces take on the characteristics of the people who occupy them,” she says, explaining how, on her first visit to the park, her car was accosted by two threatening men in “big overcoats”.

She was undeterred, however, and has weathered criticism and bureaucracy to create a space that last Heritage Day hosted 1 500 people.

The Hatcheries Park is a transformed space today, with a large climbing frame for children, swings and braai facilities. Entry is free, but groups wanting to use the park as a venue for parties or to braai are asked to pay a R250 fee.

Vally’s non-profit organisation, Growing Parks, ensures that the park is maintained and that there is on-site security seven days a week.

This has created 11 full-time, permanent jobs, 70% of which are staffed by black women.

“I sincerely appreciate the recognition and congratulations from dignitaries [that the award has brought],” says Vally, “but at the end of the day, this award will add credentials to my ability to fundraise and source investment for social upliftment projects that will benefit the Pietermaritzburg public.”

Growing Parks relies primarily on investment from business for its sustainability.

“An NPO by definition is a business that has a social benefit to society,” she says, adding that she sees herself as an entrepreneur.

“The idea of entrepreneurship is a new part of my personal identity. In an interview, I was asked about what it means to be an entrepreneur. My answer was ‘the ability to take risks’.”

Asked what advice she would give to aspiring community builders, Vally said: “Education. Having a good idea is just not enough. Nobody will give you money because you are a good person. You need skills and legitimate credentials. I’ve had to learn about compliance issues and good corporate governance practices to ensure the success of this NPO. It’s also crucial that you work in an area that is in line with your core value system.”

Vally now intends rehabilitating the area around the Peace Monument that was erected in Imbali Stage 2 in memory of those who died during the violence between the ANC and IFP in the nineties. Her dream is to create a park and one day see children playing around the monument.

“What could be more significant than that?” she asks.

Vally was a finalist in the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BWA) Businesswoman of the Year Awards earlier this year and has entered the Nedbank/PCB Business Awards 2013, in the Emergent Black Business Person of the Year category. She will find out this Friday evening if she can add another accolade to her growing collection.

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