by Jason Wheeler
The preschool in the village where we are holding the Reading Camp, has a playground in disrepair. And by “disrepair” I mean that all of the supports for the swing set and climbing slide have split, broken completely, or otherwise have become unsafe to play on. One of our goals for this trip was for Bruce, Ronnie and me to repair the playground.
After a lot of hard work originally performed
by the GMH team a few years ago to install a new playground, the swing set had to be demolished last year as it was already breaking apart and creating a safety hazard. The problem stems from faulty plastic used in the construction of the equipment. The company who manufactured and sold the playground freely admitted that they provided bad materials, and agreed to send replacement supports for the swings and climbing slide to Maryland. GMH shipped them to Ghana.
Our main goal was to rebuild the swing set which required a number of steps. First, we had to remove the ten concrete slabs that were used to anchor the original swing set. We thought this would be the hardest part of our week, but with the help of three men from the village, we were able to remove the old concrete in an hour or two.
The next step was to assemble the new supports using the old brackets and screws. This should have been the easiest step to knock-out, but as the saying goes: “TIA” or “This is Africa”. It seems the company that sent the replacement pieces did not drill the holes in the right place to fit the existing brackets. So for the remainder of the first day and into the next morning, the supports (which are made of a very dense extruded plastic material) had to be chiseled and shaved down on the ends in order for brackets to line up with the holes. Not an easy task when you don’t have the proper tools. We also determined that some of the bolts necessary to attach the old brackets to the supports had grown legs and walked away over the course of the past year since the team was here last. So we had to locate replacement bolts and nuts in the small market towns. Fortunately, we came up with what was needed, and the supports went in the ground on Tuesday along with an extra large helping of concrete (mixed by hand by the village’s mason).
The last major step was to replace the steel pipes on either end of the swing set that stabilize the supports. Another local gentleman was dispatched to the shops of Accra to locate the right size and length of pipe that we would need. Unfortunately, exact replacements could not be located, but he did find material that could work. However, it would require drilling a number of holes through sections of galvanized steel…without any power tools.
To most, including me, the task of hand-drilling through steel would be a game changer, but Bruce doesn’t even flinch at the idea. Amongst the many tool boxes shipped to Ghana last year from the South Riding Church Men’s Group, we located an olde-timey hand crank drill and a bunch of drill bits. With a bit of cooking oil from the small preschool kitchen, Bruce lubed the drill and bits, and started cranking away. When the hand-drill wasn’t working fast or effective enough, Bruce simply took the drill bit, clamped it with vice-grips, and “drilled” out holes with his bare hands. It was an impressive sight. He managed to hand drill holes through 4 sections of steel pipe. Then it was just a matter of bolting on these stabilizers and setting them in more concrete.
By Thursday afternoon, the swing set was 90% complete. On Friday, once the concrete has cured enough, we intend to hang the swings, and stand back to admire the handiwork while the children rush the playground and jockey for a turn on the swings.
Sadly, we got to witness firsthand the dangers that the original faulty material posed when one of the supports for the slide broke-off and hit a little girl on the head. Fortunately she is alright, but the incident pointed out that we will have to try and repair the slide next with only one day left to go. We originally hoped that the slide was going to hold up and not require a significant overhaul. But we can’t leave it in the condition it is in for fear of someone getting severely injured. So we will redouble our efforts to get it done in the few hours we have left tomorrow.
Over the course of the week working on the swing project, we encountered challenge after challenge, and yet we are getting it all done, and with some time to spare. Like they say, “where there is a will, there is a way.” Thankfully, it has been God’s will, and we are doing it His way.