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Harmanli Refugee Camp Play School (Unofficial translation)

Geographic Area






Type of Information

Project or programme


Harmanli Refugee Camp Play School

Contact Person

Gil Clasby (Login to send email)

Contact Person Function

Founder and teacher

Project Start


Ongoing Project



Harmanli Refugee Camp Play School is a centre for play based learning and play therapy in which refugee children can relax, have fun and thrive!
The school provides children between the ages of 4 and 14 with a range of activities and lessons to develop maths, science, art and English skills, knowledge and understanding as well as opportunities for personal, social and emotional development. The school also aims to introduce children to the structure and style of European schooling.
It is an inclusive school, many children who attend have specific special educational needs and all children have experienced differing levels of trauma in recent years.

Issue/Challenge and Goal/Assumption

Hundreds of children spend many months in Harmanli Refugee Camp every year. Most of these children have either never been to school or have been out of school for up to 4 years. Whilst these children are living in Harmanli Refugee Camp they have no access to school or any other activities, they spend their time listening to stressed parents discussing war and future worries or playing outside with broken bits of plastic and stones. Gil Clasby, the founder of Harmanli Refugee Camp Play School, recognised the need for a safe and fun learning environment where children could relax, learn through play and forget about the “grown – up” worries that they spend so much time exposed to. Gil Clasby runs the school with her daughter Sadie Clasby, Gil is a qualified nursery nurse and Sadie is a qualified primary school teacher; both have qualifications and years of experience in playwork.

How does it work

The play school is split into 3 age groups: ages 4 - 7, ages 8 - 11 and ages 12 - 14. Each session begins with an hour of free play where children can choose from a wide range of art and craft activities, a mix of both educational and less educational toys and games, reading in the quiet area, sensory play and role play. This is followed by a 30 minute lesson where basic English and maths are taught through games and songs.


The school is very popular with both children and their parents, many have said that the school is the only good thing about being in the camp. Some even say that it is the only good thing about being in Bulgaria. When children first start coming to the school they are often very quiet, shy and frightened, they cling to siblings and stick to one area of the room. After just a few weeks attending the school they have made lots of friends, developed their confidence, social skills and ability to communicate with others who speak a different language. They can speak basic English and know their numbers, but most importantly they have learned to relax, play and be children again.


The school continuously assesses and evaluates the effectiveness of lessons (lesson plans are evaluated weekly), play sessions and the school as a whole through discussion with parents, children and experienced professionals. The school is also regularly adapting and acting on ideas that arise from evaluations e.g. the school started as one longer session for ages 4 – 11, but became three shorter sessions for three different age groups. This was partly due to recognising the need for siblings to have time apart, the need to differentiate lessons and due to increasing popularity and numbers!

Who will benefit?

All children between the ages of 4 and 14 who live in Harmanli Refugee Camp are welcome to attend, including children with additional needs. This has been up to 400 school aged children, however the numbers could increase at any time.

Source of funding and Resources used

Harmanli Refugee Camp Play School is run by Gil Clasby and Sadie Clasby who are unpaid and unfunded volunteers. A few refugee volunteers help in the classroom with translation, behaviour management and cleaning.
Initial school resources and toys were provided by the volunteer’s family as well as two small donations from England and Poland. UNICEF provided two of their “school in a box” resources and occasionally the school receives one-off small monetary donations that are used to buy craft resources like paper and paint.