Healing Through Play
A tsunami-ravaged community designs and builds its own
playground with the help of a landscape architect.
By Katherine Melcher, ASLA
“…the preservation (or
restoration) of communal forms of life must become a lasting concern, not only
for those charged with healing the wounds of acute disaster but for those
charged with planning a truly human future.”
—Kai T. Erikson,
Everything in Its
Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood
Katherine Melcher, ASLA
When I first heard about the tsunami in December 2004, I wanted
to go to Southeast Asia and help. But in the immediate frenzy that
followed the tsunami, I knew I’d just be in the way. I’m not a doctor
or emergency relief specialist. In the face of such a large disaster,
what could a landscape architect really do to help?
Coming to the profession with a background in sociology and
experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, I had considered landscape architecture
a way to make visible, positive changes to our immediate environments. But in
the three years I had spent working in a private firm, I had seen numerous
projects get cut down to the minimal landscaping required for permitting. I had
started thinking of landscape architecture as a luxury item and not as
something important to people’s everyday lives.
So, a few months later, when I found a request on the Crisis
Corps web site from a village in Thailand asking for a volunteer to help them
design and build a playground, I knew I had to go. I left my job in San Diego,
put most of my belongings in storage, and went to Thailand for the six-month
Eight of us Crisis Corps volunteers arrived in Bangkok in
August 2005. Projects ranged from developing information databases to
constructing housing with interlocking earth blocks to counseling youth who had
lost family in the tsunami. After three days of orientation in Bangkok, we were
driven to our new homes.
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