High schoolers enrolled at Abington design for world's poorest kids

Children from some of the world's poorest countries will enjoy the simple pleasure of play thanks to high school seniors from eastern Montgomery County enrolled in Penn State Abington’s introductory engineering class -- engineering, design and graphics.

About 20 high school students have joined more than 200 professional architectural and engineering firms from over a dozen countries in a competition to design fun, affordable and sustainable playgrounds for children in developing nations. Designers from Australia, the US, Europe, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Uganda and more signed up to help.

The competition was launched through a partnership between two organizations. The first, a nonprofit group Go Play!, is a charity that has built more than 60 playgrounds for needy children in Asia, Africa and South America. Architecture for Humanity, the other organization involved, is a nonprofit design services firm that hosts design competitions for projects in the developing world.

Go Play founder Marcus Veerman said all children need to play -- and not just for fun.

“Play is serious business for children and is essential in developing social skills, physical abilities and problem solving,'' Veerman said. “For children in developing countries who have often experienced wars and heart-breaking poverty, play also provides a way of coming to terms with their world and healing.''

Go Play! aims to build innovative playgrounds using affordable and sustainable materials and by training local people to build them. Old tires are used in a large portion of the playground designed by the Penn State Abington group -- affectionately named “Nessie Land” because of the Loch Ness tire monster featured in the playground.

Cynthia Lang, one of the instructors for the class, said the students were challenged to put their computer-aided design skills to work for a worthy cause.

“This project gave the students some great real world design experience,” Lang said. “Their proposal was developed for an actual site at a school serving 1,000 Burmese immigrant children. The design also had to meet stringent safety specifications and stay within a very limited budget using local materials such as eucalyptus logs, bamboo and recycled materials like tires.”

According to high school senior Raymond Fox, taking the college level class gave him a glimpse of what it takes to become an engineer.

"This whole project really taught me just how much time and effort goes into the design aspect of something as simple as a playground. It takes a lot of work to transform an idea to a fully defined 3D representation of that model.”

The winning playground design will be announced on Feb. 8 and will be built on the Thailand-Myanmar border for some of the thousands of refugee children fleeing from Myanmar. The winning design team will receive $1000 to cover travel costs in order to oversee construction work and see first-hand the difference their playground will make.