The Foundation of Community: Building Playgrounds in Afghanistan

By Steven Brasley and Bianca Nicolosi

Swings, slides & monkey bars greet children as they race to the playground. Their energy propels them across a swinging bridge connecting each child not only as they play together but also as they have fun at the playground at South Hill Elementary in Ithaca, NY.

Children in Kabul, Afghanistan play on a playground built by Play by Design. Photo courtesy Lee Archin.

Now, a local playground company is providing the same opportunity for children abroad.

Play by Design, a playground company based in Ithaca, NY, has sent a team of builders overseas to construct playgrounds for children in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Click here to see an interactive graphic on safe playground design.

Dave Iannello and Lee Archin, founders of Play by Design, have been preparing for over a year to assist in 11 community builds in Kabul. “Essentially our job is to guide others to do for themselves and that’s just what we are doing in Afghanistan,” said Archin.

Play by Design was hired by The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A spokesperson for USAID declined to comment on the project.

Click here for a slideshow on Play by Design’s build process.

Building a playground is a very small component in terms of building a relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, said Sher Jan Ahmadzai, coordinator for education and outreach services at the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Although Ahmadzai said making a safe place for kids in Afghanistan to play is a positive step toward a good future, “the problem is sustainability.” Ahmadzai explained that most playgrounds built in Afghanistan lose quality in about six months due to lack of proper maintenance.

Play by Design builds its one-of-a-kind structures with sustainability and safety in mind by using materials such as rot resistant black locust and recycled composite wood. All playgrounds are certified safe according to US standards, Iannello and Archin said.

The company works with local community members to create play structures which connect residents, but cultural differences made this process difficult for the company.

“There were still some differences we had to address. We had to bring some equipment there that wasn’t available. There are certain days you can work and certain days that you can’t, Friday for instance is not a normal work day,” said Iannello, “We have personal body guards, there were a couple of sites that frankly were a little questionable due to safety.”

Despite this concern for safety, Iannello said building playgrounds is a redeeming endeavor, recalling the many smiling children at a playground ribbon-cutting ceremony in Kabul.

“Every kid has the right to play,” said Iannello.

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