Playground Builders bring joy to the world, one swing at a time

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While no expert in pedagogy, Reynolds understood that there were definite links between happy childhoods and happy adults. What kind of adults could children in war zones hope to become if all they ever knew was fear of their surroundings?

And so, using his own funds, Reynolds paid for the construction of two playgrounds within refugee camps in the West Bank.

Girl on swing, Palestinian territories

The response was overwhelming – not just among the children, but from the community that helped build them. From there, the project just kept expanding, with schools and parents sending in proposals to build a playground for their own children.

An elegant solution

“Playground Builders is one of the most elegant solutions to the root cause problem that I've ever encountered,” explained Reynold's longtime friend and social enterprise consultant Kirby Brown, on his reasons for getting involved with Playground Builders, where he currently serves as vice-president.

“It offers the most simple, on-the-ground solutions to change future behavior. It sounds incredibly simplistic, but it is."

"Children who play together, care for each other, they develop stronger minds and bodies. And they understand the societal rules that comes with unstructured playground play. It doesn't cost much, and it creates a fundamental and lasting change centred around having fun."

School principals in Afghanistan, as well as the Education Minister of Iraq, have noted that children's attendance, as well as grades, improved noticeably after playgrounds were installed.

A broad reaching impact

People who have worked directly with Playground Builders as board members – Kirby Brown, Mike Varrin, Traci Costa, Kelly Hand and Leslie Anthony – are "basically a group of friends," as Hand puts it.

The photographs on the group's Facebook page tell stories of the immense impact that Playground Builders has had on communities.

In one girls-only school in Afghanistan (named “Patricia's playground”, after a Calgary woman who funded the playground in memory of her father), young girls in white crowd around the camera as other girls play on a bright green teeter-totter in the background.

Girls playing at Patricia's Playground

In another photo, a group of youth – including one girl – in wheelchairs and crutches huddle in a circle on a basketball court in the Pir-e Herat Humanism Centre for the Handicapped, a centre for youth disabled by landmines, injury or birth.

Thanks to this basketball court, they can connect with others, build teamwork and experience the joy of playing sports like other able-bodied youth in Afghanistan.

Youth on a basketball court in Herat

Children aren't the only ones who benefit from the playgrounds, either: each new playground brings employment for people involved.

"When a war breaks out, one of the first thing that people lose is jobs," Reynolds explained. Unemployment, estimated at over 30 per cent in Afghanistan and 60 per cent in Gaza, turns people into economic refugees, which hugely destabilizes families.

"If we can give people a job, a job that benefits the country, it's fulfilling something we all want to have: security, stability, dignity and happy children," Reynolds said.

Workers in Iraq, above; Palestine, below.

Through contracts at Playground Builders, workers get paid $8 a day in Afghanistan: it's competitive with the $10 wage that the Taliban pay, for much more beneficial work.

"Lots of people would rather be helping build a playground for their kids," Reynolds noted. He vividly remembers the surprised joy of one Afghan contractor who learned that the playground he was about to build would be located where his daughter was studying.

Breaking new ground for the marginalized

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