Recent television coverage of a refugee camp in tsunami-ravaged Indonesia showed a familiar sight, heartening amid the scenes of destitute refugees and exhausted relief workers: a group of children at play, using a discarded tin can as a soccer ball, running, laughing and cheering even against a backdrop of utter destruction. This well-known resilience of children in the face of disaster is inspiring and reassuring, and yet it tugs at the heartstrings as well. As the most innocent and most vulnerable members of communities rent asunder by natural disasters and armed conflict, it is often the children who suffer the worst effects of disease, hunger, abuse and neglect. And if a discarded tin can is enough to keep them happy for a few minutes, what would they do with some of the everyday wonders that more fortunate children are able to take for granted, such as ready access to a playground?
Thoughts like these crowded the mind of the president and owner of a U.S. playground equipment company last spring as he followed the news reports emanating from war-torn Iraq. Having just purchased Big Toys, Inc., the Olympia-based company where he'd worked since 1978, Tim Madeley was starting to plan the first of the "significant" annual charitable donations he wanted Big Toys to start making. As he watched the television images of bomb-shattered Iraqi cities, he wondered if there were any way he could get one of his playgrounds to a school in the violence-plagued country.
"Admittedly, it's just a drop in the ocean," Madeley says. "But I thought it would be nice if we could let a small group of Iraqi children know that someone in the U.S. cared."
Madeley quickly decided that he wanted to donate a playground to Iraq, but immediately there were more questions: Where in Iraq? How would he get it there? And who could help him make sure that his donation actually reached children in need? As committed as he felt to his decision, Madeley worried that the donation might be easier said than done.
One organization that caught his eye was Save the Children, an independent nonprofit founded in 1938 and based in Connecticut, with ongoing operations in 17 U.S. states and more than 40 countries. The more Madeley learned about the organization, the more comfortable he felt.
"The thing that attracted me is that their charter is specifically to benefit children, which is similar to our company's philosophy," he says.
He also was impressed by the extensive infrastructure that Save the Children maintains inside Iraq. According to Luciana Sette of Save the Children's corporate marketing department, the organization employs more than 190 Iraqis in various projects, including establishing recreation activities at more than 50 Iraqi primary schools.
"I liked the fact that a large proportion of their staff in Iraq were Iraqis," Madeley says. "That led me to believe that if I could donate the equipment, they could get it in the ground. I didn't want to ship over some playground equipment and have it sit in a warehouse and never get played on."