Playground Builders bring joy to the world, one swing at a time
One of the most moving photos comes from Playground #113, showing young children on a slide: these children in Kabul have been sent to live at a children's center because their mothers are in prison.
While some of the mothers are in prison for legitimate crimes, the weak status of women in Afghanistan (ranked the worst country in the world for women last year) means that some mothers have been jailed simply for attempting to run away from their husbands, or for getting along poorly with relatives.
Children in playground #113, the facility for children of mothers in prison.
“This playground #113 in Afghanistan is one that's really hitting home, because these kids have nobody, nothing,” explained Hand.
“They've come out of life with their mom at the prisons to live at this orphanage. It's one very recent playground that we're all very emotionally attached to.”
The situation of these children is especially troubling considering some of the 'crimes' for which some Afghan women can be jailed.
“Some women in Afghanistan are in prison for crimes surrounding 'bad relationships',” said Brown. While noting that he can't speak to all the cases, Brown said that different international aid groups have reported Afghan women being locked up for 'moral crimes' that would merit no jail time in the developed world.
Providing a peaceful future for boys
As bad as the situation is for women and girls, Reynolds and Brown remind people that boys in war zones are vulnerable as well.
“In our western world, we're very focused on girls in Afghanistan. They rightly deserve support, but in doing so, we often overlook the boys and young men," he said.
"And the young boys – you can't change everything overnight, and when they grow up, those boys are going to have a lot more say as to what goes on in Afghanistan. We have to support these boys as well. We need to keep young teenage boys in team sports or something that is not military-related.”
To that end, Playground Builders has sponsored its first cricket team for young men. Cricket is an immensely popular sport in Afghanistan, and cricket players serve as big role models for younger boys.
On the back of their bright green team uniforms, three words are emblazoned across their backs: “Peace Cricket Team”.
The Peace Cricket team
Dr. Inayat, centre, with the Peace Cricket Team. Dr. Inayat works extensively with Playground Builders to coordinate the building of playgrounds in Afghanistan.
It's hard to overstate the positive effect it has had on boys and men who are holding cricket bats rather than guns in their hands. And $6,500 was all it took for Playground Builders to build a cricket pitch (field), buy equipment and fund travel for the team for one whole year.
Congregation instead of isolation
Brown, a well-known social enterprise consultant has traveled to Afghanistan to support the project, sees first-hand the difference the project has made for children and their communities at large.
“What happens on a playground is congregation, and what happens on the street is isolation,” he emphasized. One of the most disturbing experiences he had in Afghanistan, he said, was seeing daily violence in the streets among young children.
“Particularly boys – you see boys seven, eight, nine years old, fighting everywhere,” he said. “It's the kind of fights you want to pull over and break up...real fighting. When kids are playing in in the streets, they're playing war games.”
“But in a playground, it's brightly coloured, you're swinging, you're sliding, spinning. The games are much more beneficial, and now it's not just other boys you're hanging out with. Because we're targeting young kids, your're also interacting with girls, with people of other tribes, it becomes a real melting pot – not a place of further isolation.”
Mike Varrin, a board member who traveled to the Palestinian territories on his own dime for Playground Builders (as did Brown: the charity reserves nearly all funding for the playground-building costs), saw that a playground was transformative not only for the children, but also their parents and family.