Reynolds establishes playground in Afghanistan 

Playground Builders offers hope, opportunity to children in Middle East conflict zones

click to enlarge The Joy Envoy Keith Richards ensconced in a quilt of kids in Afghanistan.
  • The Joy Envoy Keith Richards ensconced in a quilt of kids in Afghanistan.

The world’s most dangerous places present nothing but opportunity for Keith Reynolds, a Whistler resident who has just established a playground in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Reynolds, a former forestry worker, is the founder of Playground Builders, a Whistler-based organization established in 2006 that has built play areas and gathering places in countries such as Iraq and areas under control of the Palestinian Authority.

His most recent trip to the Middle East started in May, where he and two volunteers including Mike Varrin, the general manager of bars for Whistler-Blackcomb, toured the West Bank before Reynolds went on his own to Kabul, where he helped touch up a playground at a Kabul orphanage and started a new one at a girls’ school.

It was an emotional trip for Reynolds, who said in an interview that Playground Builders is gaining support and making new friends around the world.

“The best way to make a friend with somebody is to look after their children,” he said.

The first leg of the trip took Reynolds and his volunteers to Ramallah, the unofficial capital of the Palestinian Authority. From there, they went to check out some completed and prospective playground sites throughout the West Bank.

While the playgrounds were still standing, a number of them had sustained some damage from aggressive young children, while the more extreme damage was caused by theft.

“There is definitely some damage that is being repaired now,” Reynolds said. “The extreme damage was possibly some theft that was taken, some chain, but most of it is now being covered.”

In order to establish playgrounds in the Middle East, Reynolds links up with organizations already stationed in the countries where he hopes to build them.

His partner in the Palestinian Authority is Sharek, an organization that promotes the development of youth by creating spaces for young people to engage as “active participants” in all areas of their society. Their initiatives include cleaning and painting activities in Ramallah and Hebron.

Sharek covers the cost of maintaining Reynolds’ playgrounds and helps link Playground Builders up with workers and manufacturers.

Reynolds has also established playgrounds in the volatile Gaza Strip, which has been marked by sectarian violence between groups loyal to the Fatah party, which is headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and those loyal to Hamas, a terrorist group that was elected to government in 2006.

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