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Purdue School of Engineering and Technology

Purdue School of Engineering and Technology

IUPUI students build playground structure for preschoolers in Swaziland

August 18, 2017

IUPUI students and playground-builders Brandy Barnett, Abigail Richart, Tiffany Skilling and Victoria Smith-Howard, from left, with their finished product in Swaziland.

IUPUI students and playground-builders Brandy Barnett, Abigail Richart, Tiffany Skilling and Victoria Smith-Howard, from left, with their finished product in Swaziland.

By John Schwarb

The lasting impression is all those smiles on kids' faces. Though isn't it funny how after doing something good, the adults' smiles are just as big?

A group of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis students, along with Beth Huffman, a lecturer in the School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI, traveled to Swaziland in May to build a piece of playground equipment for preschoolers in a small village. With 100 recycled tires, a rented drill and some improvisation, the group constructed an apparatus that will serve the students for years to come.

"I've never seen children so happy to have a playing structure -- you could see the excitement and joy in their faces," said Abby Richart, a senior interior design major in the School of Engineering and Technology. "And it brought me joy as well."

Huffman created the service-learning project in conjunction with the Give Hope, Fight Poverty nonprofit, which engages American students with rural communities in Swaziland. The South African nation has the world's highest AIDS infection rate, which has led to a generation of children growing up without one or both of their parents. Education is crucial to the country's future.

"The goal is to take a team every year and build something that Give Hope, Fight Poverty needs," said Huffman, who teaches interior design. "The focus is on efficiency, with no-experience-needed construction techniques and free -- or as close to free as we can get -- materials."

Annie Todt, founder of Give Hope, Fight Poverty and a Purdue graduate, consulted with Huffman and her students from the 3-D interior design studio class and chose a design for the playground. Huffman and four students then traveled to Swaziland for 10 days to experience the culture and complete their project.

As for that project, well, there is a lot more that goes into a tire structure than stacking tires. The students had to have a flat ground to build on, and when they didn't exactly find that at the school, they created as flat of a surface as possible despite a lack of heavy earth-moving equipment.

The group knew they would have to drill through the tires to connect them with bolts, but cordless drills brought from the U.S. were inoperable due to the power-conversion rate in Swaziland. So they rented a drill from a resident to cut through all the secondhand tires, whose variations in size and condition made for a challenge throughout the project.

Near the end of the construction they found that a few more tires were needed for the top section, which was not part of the original design. With a little improvisation, they made it happen.

"We were able to work through each of these challenges as a team and complete a successful project that the children loved," said Tiffany Skilling, a junior interior design student. "It was a wonderful experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life -- and I hope to someday have the chance to contribute more."