Playground Builders bring joy to the world, one swing at a time
“A playground reaches more than just kids,” Varrin said.
“One of the key things is to create a space for parents to gather, so you can create dialogue among adults.”
Each playground is built with colourful benches nearby so that parents can watch their children as they chat and socialize with other adults. The playground gives people in a war zone a rare public place to socialize in ways they never could before.
Canadians making a difference
Although contributions come from around the world, Canadians (and Whistlerites in particular) are among the biggest supporters of Playground Builders. The cause strikes a chord with young children as well: one of Varrin's favorite examples is a class of grade one students who held a bake sale and raised money until they were able to give a $100 donation.
Christmas is usually the time for a big push for Playground Builders, Brown explains, with donors from Canada and abroad seeking to give something meaningful to mark the occasion. Rather than buying expensive products, people can buy a swing or slide and know they've made a vast difference for people halfway around the world.
“There's lots of families out there where people have everything the need,” Brown said.
"This is a way for people who like to give tangible things as gifts to satisfy their generosity and really feel good about it. A real piece of equipment results from their donation and they get a framed photograph for under the tree."
One thing that donors don't have to worry about with Playground Builders is their funds being misused: because the the organization is run by such a lean team, virtually all the money raised goes directly toward the building and maintaining a playground.
“If you give us $300 for a swing set, it really will be a swing set,” Brown said. “The beauty and simplicity of what we do is that we're one of those few organizations that every dollar counts.”
More than simply providing fun and amusement, the playgrounds can serve as an important symbol for peace for children who will build their country's future. What's more, a new swing set or merry-go-round is one gift that will keep giving, for years after Christmas season is over.
Reynolds puts it best:
"I think the best gift that a child could give their parent is a happy child."
The story of Zainab: how one playground changed a life
Playground Builders often receives correspondence about how a playground has changed a child or children's lives for the better. Here is one story that beautifully illustrates this.
In one letter to Playground Builders, a school principal explains that a young orphan girl in Baghdad named Zainab had always come to school sad and reclusive, having lost both parents to the war.
When the workers came to build a playground, however, the principal noticed that she was smiling as she watched them work.
"The playground really helped release her from PTSD," Reynolds recalled.
Zainab came to the workers later with a bouquet of roses in her hands, asking if she could give present them to whoever was responsible for the playground. When they explained to her that he was far away, in Canada, she asked if the principal could send a flower on her behalf -- in thanks for making her feel happy again.
The letter, which can be read online, shows how life-affirming a small playground can be for children who have suffered from war.
Zainab, holding roses in thanks for the playground
This article was written as part of the Vancouver Observer 'We'll Tell Your Story' package. For inquiries, please write [email protected]