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Of bombs, bikes and building playgrounds

Whistler helps out

RMOW Policy and Program Development

What do olive oil, dreadlocked musicians, Palestinian playgrounds, second hand bicycles, global citizens, Whistler2020 task forces and emerging Chinese ski resorts have in common? How about a connection to Whistler through outreach, compassion and capacity building as Whistler shares information and core competencies to try and make the world a better place for all.

The valley is still abuzz from Stephen Lewis’s passionate stories about his compassionate and vital work regarding HIV/AIDS in Africa last week, thanks to the Social Sustainability Speaker Series. Tomorrow, Millennium Place should be full of desire to help when the international not-for-profit organization, Playgroundbuilders, screens I Know I am not Alone , a documentary film by musician Michael Franti. Set in war-torn countries of Palestine, Iraq and Israel, Franti touches on the human cost of war, focusing on victims, not politics. Sadly, the innocent victims are the most tragic component of this tale of woe and war.

Whistler’s Keith Reynolds saw these struggles firsthand while backpacking through the Middle East in the mid-80s. After a successful business career and some wise Whistler real estate deals, Reynolds found himself traveling the world, often ending up in regions torn by conflict and calamity.

“I was traveling in Iraq and I realized this conflict, which had nothing to do with children, had taken away their ability to be children,” Reynolds says of the moment he decided to help. “Children are the seeds of the future, yet in these war-torn regions they really don’t understand why they don’t have a safe place to play.”

Through his connection with, Reynolds invested his own money and time in funding the creation of three playgrounds in 2006 in Palestine and Israel. By going out to a competitive, local bid system, the playgrounds were built by locals, for locals. In the end, Reynolds says the multiplier effect goes far beyond the original investment. So far, 14 playgrounds have been built throughout the mid-east, with Cambodia and Afghanistan as the next regions on the playlist.

“These are so much more than playgrounds these folks are building,” he says. “They are rebuilding their communities. Through these projects, locals take responsibility, action and ownership of their future… and they build hope. I really hope happy children turn into happy adults.”

Whistler’s shared community value of knowledge and resources is represented in Whistler2020 through our commitment to social sustainability: to eliminate Whistler’s contribution to undermining the ability of others to meet their needs. In addition to taking care of each other locally, Whistlerites can meet this objective by reaching out to developing nations, emerging destinations and sharing resources, core competencies and community lessons.

The Whistler Rotary Club has been engaged in international development work since its inception, Bicycles for Humanity is gathering bikes in Function Junction to send to Namibia, Africa and the Whistler Social Sustainability Speakers Series helps our community understand that doing anything is better than doing nothing. So, there are many examples of innovative outreach projects going on in Whistler, but is there a focus?

To put all the positive work in focus, a collective of dedicated local volunteers has undertaken a project called Whistler International Programs Group. The group has met over the past year and will be reviewing a Draft Terms of Reference and coming up with a short and long term plan, says co-chair Caroline Lamont.

“This idea has been around for some time and as we developed our Comprehensive Sustainability Plan (Whistler2020) we started looking at how well off we are on a global scale and how transferable some of our success could be if we really focused on getting things going on the ground,” Lamont says.

Next steps, according to Lamont are to develop a governance structure, source funding opportunities and set up some type of project parameters. So, rather than “adopt” a developing sister city, the group may move around the globe on a project by project basis, potentially “focusing on mountain environments as that is what we are and what we understand,” she says.

Understanding mountain resorts is why a group of Chinese officials from Changbai Mountain Development were in Whistler last week. Our experience and lessons learned are valuable around the globe. An emerging Chinese resort community, Changbai is fostering connections with British Columbia as they continue to refine their vision and infrastructure as a mountain destination.

When Victoria Smith left Whistler2020 after a year of work with our community task forces, she had a transferable process on community engagement and action development. Representing the International Centre for Sustainable Communities, Smith traveled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and worked with the mayor’s office there to model the Whistler2020 task force process to build capacity relative to sustainable tourism development.

“The transferability of process for me was a really big help in taking something developed in the mountain playground of Whistler to one of the most impoverished regions on the globe,” says Smith. “It’s all about the shared language relative to sustainability. Whether you are in Whistler or Africa, it’s not about the content, it’s about the consensus and capacity-building process… it’s about vision and action. When people have tools to be successful it’s amazing what can be accomplished.”

To KNOW MORE about other actions that are moving our community toward Whistler2020, to tell us how you’re contributing, or to find out how we’re performing visit .