Sometimes when I get the urge, I go to the park down the road and I swing. It is something that I have always done, and as a 42 yr old woman I simply won’t give it up. And you know what, when you are playing it gets your endorphins going, my muscles remember what it was like to suspend when in the upswing and push with my feet on the downswing. Sometimes when I am soaring I get a bit giddy, but the feeling of losing my tummy on each swing is worth it.
So today, although I wasn’t swinging at the playground, I had the opportunity and fortune to speak with Marcus Veerman, of Playground Ideas.org. I had sought out Marcus after having a very off the cuff conversation with my local naturopath, James. You know how it goes, “so James where have you been?”, “oh, I have been in Bangladesh building playgrounds”, wowsers, how amazing! So the conversation went on , who, what, how??? What got me really excited about this story was not only the playful element, building playgrounds for children that don’t have access to them, but that the majority of the playgrounds were being built from wasted materials. Car tyres, plastic tubs, general refuse and other materials were all sourced locally from within the community. This here is one of the single best social enterprises I had ever heard of.
I had so many more questions for James, he was working and I was frankly getting in the way at the store, but I realised if I wanted to get the full low down I needed to talk to Marcus.
Quick background on Marcus Veerman and Playground Ideas.org; he is about my age, I think, maybe younger, but who really cares how old he is. For the past 10 + years he has been the driving force behind creating play spaces for children around the world. After spending some time travelling in Thailand to build classrooms, Marcus was asked to build a playground. It stirred something in him, charged him up and now in 2018 Playground Ideas (playgroundideas.org) is building and assisting others to build playgrounds worldwide.
I have been interviewing people for the past few months, looking to praise others for the great work they do and to raise awareness of waste minimisation and elimination stories. So, with this intent I had a list of questions for Marcus. I wanted to find out about the waste element, why or what gave him the idea about making playgrounds from refuse in developing countries. I was after the essence of Marcus’s motivation?
Marcus’s story is similar to many of ours, he grew up in a family very similar to my own, his parents were frugal, nothing went to waste and there was much thought given to the impact of their daily actions, meals and their household waste. I think it was one of those ‘eat all your peas’ homes. His Dad in particular was an environmentalist, in a time when that was just a whole lot of hippy mumbo jumbo. These sentiments still ring true for Marcus, and as I found out in the first 5 minutes, he hates waste and over-consumption. It’s not just the over reliance and use of fossil fuels, but the flow on effects of waste that makes him upset, and you know what Marcus, me too! I understood him. Every little bit of waste, even the morning cereal that didn’t make it down into his sons happy belly gets him angry. That small amount of muesli that didn’t get eaten needs action.
As I said previously, I was on a mission to find out about the waste, recycling and champion Marcus for these contributions, but I got so much more. His determination that children need play as part of their education, just as much as the other traditional teachings highlights Playground Ideas mission. In developing countries not only are the children delivered their learning in a very repetitive way, but they are disadvantaged at having little to no access to play. The combination of these elements have negative effects on learning and development. Through multiple studies the findings appear conclusive, play and having access to play in the early years of a child’s life significantly improves their outcomes. Just by having access to play has proven that there are higher rates of completing schooling, being paid higher incomes and getting better jobs, learning the skill of negotiation at a young age, sharing and self regulation. It is not rocket science, these benefits are just as important as learning the times tables.
Playground Ideas is so much more than a not for profit organisation delivering play spaces worldwide, they are thinking outside of the sand pit on many fronts.
The combination of volunteers, professionals and donations keeps the cogs churning and brings together the community, local governments, assists and delivers training to build the playgrounds, and it changes the trajectory of the kids who get to play, ah hhum all whilst utilising waste, and natural materials. Yes, this is a complete no brainer.
From such humble beginnings in Thailand, Playground Ideas has brought the playground to over 1 million kids so far, and they are looking to double that by the end of 2018. And when you look at the map of where Playground Ideas has reached it seems that Marcus and his team are trying to colour in the world map to a beautiful hue of purple, and they are getting there one playground at a time. With 143 countries accessing and using the resources on offer by the organisation, it would appear that in no time it will be completely unimaginable that some children will not have access to a play. How freaking awesome!
Yes, Marcus is wanting world domination, but not like global figures wishing to mine or build fences, it is with the hearts and imaginations of children at the core, oh yes and eliminating and utilising waste.
To find out more about Playground Ideas.org , donate, get involved or build your own playground go to https://playgroundideas.org/
Photos and video courtesy of James Nash – Volunteer.