June 16, 2013 Features & Images » Feature Story

Thinking outside the Bubble 

Whistler locals reaching out beyond the valley to help change the world

click to flip through (6) A centre was built in Karmoja, Uganda to manage the program. Pat Montani with the local team in Uganda.
  • A centre was built in Karmoja, Uganda to manage the program. Pat Montani with the local team in Uganda.

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For the love of play

Since the Soviet Union invaded Kabul, Afghanistan in 1979 the country has been in a state of constant war. For the past 12 years, this country has lived a day-to-day life of violence, fear and uncertainty. On most days drones patrol the skies while foreign military forces roam the streets seeking out insurgent forces. Throughout this an entire generation of children has grown up knowing nothing else — the reality of loss are all too real. Two million Afghani widows mourn the loss of their husbands, and just as many children are growing up, their fathers a fading memory.

But amongst the rubble and chaos, there is a glimmer of hope for these children, a chance for them to have a slice of normalcy in an otherwise unimaginable childhood.

Whistler local Keith Reynolds saw the potential to help stop the deadly pattern of fear and violence through nothing more than a common-sense presumption about what war survivors were lacking. He visited Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Territories and gave the kids a gift — a gift that should be a fundamental right for all children — the gift of play.

A playground is something that both children and their parents in the first-world often take for granted. The simple acts of swinging, sliding, climbing, and running around should be standard for any childhood.

But sadly in some parts of the world, building a playground is far, far down the list of priorities.

"Play is an integral part of learning," says Reynolds. "Enrolment increases at schools where playgrounds are placed. Play relieves Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We know that play is communication — learning to take turns — there is interaction. Children are very present on the playground. And I witness parents that come and watch their children play. And I realized that the best gift that a child can give their parent is a happy childhood."

In Kabul Afghanistan Dr. Inayat told Reynolds this year, "In all the history of Afghanistan, no one has given this happiness to our children."

And so with hard work, determination and a great deal of passion, Reynolds registered the charity "Playground Builders."

The simple idea of giving children the right to play, something often overlooked by governments, military personnel, and aid organizations, has the power to change the world, believes Reynolds.

Not only is he allowing kids to be kids and therefore removing some motivation for perpetuating a war, but also the organization contracts out work to those who might otherwise work for the Taliban simply to put food on their table.  The work also stems the flow of economic migrants and refugees leaving the country to find work elsewhere.

Each playground costs roughly $7,500 to build. The money that Playground Builders raises goes directly to supporting this cause.

All overhead is paid for by the board members in Canada, ensuring that 100 per cent of donations goes straight to building the playgrounds. Playground Builders has one person on the ground in Afghanistan handling the day-to-day operations — their $600 per month salary paid for by the board to ensure that donor dollars go directly towards building a playground.

So far this year, Playground Builders has built 13 playgrounds in war-ravaged communities. The goal for the rest of the year is set at 30, but that number can easily increase if more money pours in. To help go to www.playgroundbuilders.org.

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