Playground Builders is a nonprofit registered charity dedicated to building playgrounds in war-torn areas in the world. They believe that playgrounds are places where “kids can be kids, community members can feel connected and empowered, new possibilities find a strong foundation and peace and hope begins.”1 With a motto of “Creating Play, Building Hope”2 they seek to “build one playground, many childhoods” in those countries where there has been conflict, strife, and war.3
Keith Reynolds returned to his love of traveling after retiring from the forestry industry. In 2003 while in Iraq, he met a 12 year old boy who was supporting his family by dismantling a wrecked fighter jet. He saw other children playing in rubble, demolished buildings, and in the street. Feeling the children were being marginalized, Keith also realized that in conflict areas people cease socializing in order to just subsist.4 His solution was to build simple playgrounds for the children and the communities, starting in the Middle East region.
In 2006 Keith used most of his own money to fund three playgrounds in the West Bank, including one in Jenin where a refugee camp was located.5 The playgrounds - consisting of swings, teeter-totters, a slide, merry-go-rounds, a climbing apparatus, fencing, surfacing, trash cans, and benches - cost about $5,000 a piece.6 These playgrounds were constructed with locally bought equipment and supplies, built and installed with local contractors, monitored by in place nonprofit groups, and maintained by the community.7
Playground Builders was officially formed in 2007 as a registered Canadian charity and by the spring of 2008 they had 14 more playgrounds started in the West Bank, 2 in Gaza, and 1 in Baghdad, Iraq.8 This latter playground's construction, which was shared by four schools, was plagued by “power shortages, electricity shortages and curfew” as well as sectarian violence and bombings. Nevertheless the dedication was attended by more than 100 Sunni and Shiite parents and 300 children.9
Over the next two years they added 12 more playgrounds in Iraq and one more in Gaza. Additionally, they have expanded into Afghanistan and have completed more than 70 playgrounds. Altogether, by 2012 Playground Builders and local communities had built well over 100 playgrounds.10 Since then the fundraising and building have continued, though the costs to build the playgrounds have risen.
Following an established criteria, Playground Builders' process begins with deciding which of many playground proposals they will support. They only build when a community invites them and that community is willing to contribute resources, land, time, equipment, and supervision. They have found that this extensive involvement generates a sense of ownership in the finished playground and leads to adequate supervision and maintenance of the playground in the future.11 They also look at the relative safety of the area, the acuteness of need for play spaces in the area, and if there are existing local agencies to oversee the project.
Once these conditions are met, the construction process of a generic playground design takes 6-10 weeks to be completed. Then the installation and finished playground is inspected by local representatives, after which a playground grand opening is celebrated by the community, teachers, administrators, parents, and children. While the playgrounds are celebrated with the participants and the media, Playground Builders keeps their own involvement in the background. In a similar way they also keep their overhead costs to nearly zero, freeing up all donations to fund the playgrounds.12
One example of this fiscal austerity is that Keith and the Playground Builders Board of Directors pay their own way to the Middle East to set up projects, meet with the local communities and agencies personally, and forge new alliances in new regions for extending their ability to provide the “gift of play.”13 Speaking of the western world in general Keith has observed that “We live in the land of play. It's time to export play.”14
Their dedication comes from their vision that “playgrounds provide for play, learning and escape from the realities of war.” School attendance, student attentiveness, and test scores have improved in the areas where they have installed playgrounds. Communities are becoming more connected, and the construction jobs brought by Playground Builders provide “income, stability, pride and dignity.” They have noted that “when children, teachers and parents observe the joy of playing on newly-constructed playgrounds, they are witnessing progress. This sense of progress is helping provide communities with hope for peace and a better future.”15
- 1. “About Playground Builders.” Playground Builders. < http://www.playgroundbuilders.org/about-playground-builders > 1 Oct. 2012.
- 2. Anthony, Leslie. “Pique-n yer interest.” The Pique. 20 Oct. 2010. < http://www.playgroundbuilders.org/piqueinterest_oct20_10.pdf > 1 Oct. 2012.
- 3. “Playground Builders give peace a chance.” Question. Serving Whistler and Pemberton. < http://whistlerquestion.com/article/20080529/WHISTLER01/242681522 > 1 Oct. 2012.
- 4. “Man gives kids in war zones a place to play.” The Vancouver Sun. May 29, 2008. < http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=3349cae0-6cdb-4e0b-87a1-7677e4df675f&k=29954 > 1 Oct 2012.
- 5. Ferreras, Jesse. “Reynolds building more playgrounds in Middle East.” The Pique. 29 May 2008. < http://www.playgroundbuilders.org/Pique_Playgroundbuilders_080529.pdf > 1 Oct. 2012.
- 6. Op.cit., “Playground Builders give peace a chance.”
- 7. Op.ci., “About Playground Builders.”
- 8. Op.cit., “Man gives kids in war zones a place to play.”
- 9. Op.cit., Ferreras.
- 10. Reynolds, Keith. Personal correspondence to Playground Professionals. 28 Nov. 2012.
- 11. “Selection Process.” Playground Builders. < http://www.playgroundbuilders.org/what-we-do/selection-process > 1 Oct. 2012.
- 12. Op.cit., Anthony.
- 13. Op.cit., “About Playground Builders.”
- 14. Burke, David. “Playground Builders pair off to 'export play'.” Whistler Question. October 27, 2010. < http://www.whistlerquestion.com/article/20101027/WHISTLER01/310279970/-1/whistler/playground-builders-pair-off-to-145-export-play-146 > 1 Oct. 2012.
- 15. “Our Results.” Playground Builders. < http://www.playgroundbuilders.org/about-playground-builders/our-impact > 1 Oct. 2012.