Playgrounds are more than just physical places to play. They are spaces where kids can be kids, community members can feel connected and empowered, new possibilities find a strong foundation and peace and hope begins.

– Playground Builders

It has been a little over one month since Kirby Brown’s “Magic Through Play” talk, part of Vancouver’s chapter of Creative Mornings, a free, monthly breakfast lecture series for the creative community. Mr. Brown is currently GM of the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, and is 1/2 of Playground Builders, a registered charity founded in 2007 that builds playgrounds for children in war-torn areas. Along with Keith Reynolds, Playground Builders has brought safe play for over 400,000 children in the form of approximately 20 playgrounds per year in Baghdad, Iraq, Kabul and Afghanistan.

Describing a region riddled, as we often forget, with land mines, Kirby did not hesitate to let us know that spotting white markers (resembling dots) on Afghanistan soil translates to a safe, clear place to walk about. Anywhere else would be a danger zone. In fact, it may take up to 200 years to entirely rid Afghanistan exclusively of land mines, he says. The legacy of war may have dismal remnants ingrained in the region’s culture and society, however Kirby’s snapshots whilst working in Afghanistan revealed breathtaking natural phenomena that would have us thinking otherwise. Things are not always how they appear, read one of Kirby’s presentation subtitles, which were a welcome lightness poetically lacing Creative Mornings’ global Magic theme.

Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding full use of the senses.
– Dr. Richard Louv, author of Last Child Left in the Woods.

Kirby’s anecdotes of Afghanistan may be able to add dimension to our Western understanding. His stories of cultivating relationships with schools, orphanages and communities, and human nature’s resilience, remind us of the possibilities of positive transformation and the power of play. Based on Hapa’s experience in providing opportunities for the activity of play to occur (e.g. UBC’s Orchard CommonsTerra Nova Play ExperienceHillcrest and Riley Parks, and the YWCA Vancouver Public Library), we are firm believers that a child’s natural curiousity and vivid imagination are what drive play. Regardless of geographic location or social status, Kirby argues that play may improve learning and spark intuition and imagination for many children. Admittedly, the cost of materials and building in Canada are not comparable to Playground Builders’ area of focus but their work brings great impact with smaller budgets.

CMVan Sep 2, 2016

The dedication and devotion of Playground Builders became obvious when a commonly received critique and question came up after the morning presentation— why not work within our own backyard? Kirby’s emphatic response was that a place like Afghanistan is where this work is desperately needed. What we can learn from Playground Builders is the value of relationships and a collaborative process. Work that is that result of a process that engages who is in need, including peers and advisors along with the design team.  Playground Builders not only enhances the experience of place, but certainly enriches lives that may otherwise be frought with danger— “a candle in a dark room” is better than none. Kirby’s presentation is available for online view here.