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Woodbury playground finds new home in Syrian refugee camp

The old playground at Timberlea Park has been refurbished and now serves hundreds of Syrian children in Lebanon. (Photo courtesy of Kids Around the World)1 / 2
Kids Around the World Vice President, Chris Marshall and his daughter, stand in front of the new playground that's been relocated from Woodbury to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. (Photo courtesy of Kids Around the World)2 / 2

A Woodbury playground has found a new home nearly 6,000 miles away in a refugee camp for Syrians.

The city donated Timberlea playground in 2015 to Kids Around the World, a global nonprofit that removes and repairs unwanted playgrounds and re-installs them in countries affected by war, disease, poverty and natural disaster. Last fall, the playground found its way to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon where hundreds of kids can now play.

"It's a safe zone for these kids," said Paul Bierhaus, a board member for Kids Around the World. "That playground gets more use in one day than it probably does in a whole year in other cities."

According to recent United Nations figures, more than one million Syrians have settled in Lebanon following nearly six years of civil war that's ravished the country, displaced millions and has left hundreds of thousands dead.

Roughly 40 percent of Syrians living in Lebanon are 11 years old and younger, according to the U.N.

For communities receiving playgrounds, it's often the first time a child has played on one, Bierhaus said.

"These kids don't smile. Life is hard on them," he said. "When they see that playground and realize it's for them, their faces just light up, and they go nuts when they get the chance to play on that playground."

Woodbury and Plymouth were among the first Minnesota cities that began working with Kids Around the World since the organization began rehabilitating municipal and school playgrounds after years of building new ones from scratch.

Cities benefit from the free removal of playgrounds that have met their use, and needy cities receive refurbished playgrounds in return.

"I think it's awesome. I truly believe in (Kids Around the World) and their mission," said Woodbury Assistant Parks Supervisor Amy Howard.

Woodbury typically replaces one playground each year, and the lifespan of a playground tends to be about 20 years.

When cities want to donate a playground, Kids Around the World inspects the structure to ensure it can be reused. Playgrounds are then transported to the nonprofit's headquarters in Illinois where workers and volunteers paint, repair and refurbish them before sending them abroad.

The process after a playground is handed off to volunteers takes anywhere from a few weeks to several months before they set it up in a new city. The cost can range from a few thousand dollars to up to $15,000 for more remote parts of the world.

In the past five years, cities in the Twin Cities metro have donated 85 playgrounds through Kids Around the World, Bierhaus said.

Woodbury has donated seven playgrounds during that time that have gone to India, Romania, Haiti, Poland and Lebanon.

The playground built in Glogow, Poland came from Colby Lake Park and was combined with another park from Plymouth to create a massive playground. It was also the first in the city of about 100,000 people, Bierhaus said.

After building it, the city of Glogow planted flowers and built fences around the playground. "It really says to a community that we value children," Bierhaus said.

A Polish minister even traveled to Woodbury to offer his thanks to the city for contributing a playground in an impoverished area.

"He came to the city and presented us with a bunch of gifts from Glogow. It was so cool and very touching," Howard said

Woodbury also donated a playground in Edgewater Park last year, but it has yet to be relocated.

Howard said she plans to donate the playgrounds at Evergreen West Park and Lakeview Knoll Park to Kids Around the World this year.

"I hope to keep working with them for as long as the city will let me," Howard said.

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