VALPARAISO | The old playground equipment at Bicentennial Park is being restored so it can be sent to Guatemala to help restore the childhoods of sexually abused girls.
Volunteers for Kids Alive International, which is based in Valparaiso, dismantled the playground April 22, and it was taken to Michigan to be refurbished before being sent to San Lucas, a city just outside Guatemala City, the nation's capital, sometime next year.
Corbey Dukes, director of Guatemala Ministries for Kids Alive, said the organization's Oasis Ministry residential facility in San Lucas houses a maximum of 58 girls, most ages 5 to 12, who have been sexually abused either at home or by being forced into prostitution.
"We work with a lot of different ministries and the attorney general of Guatemala, and, if a girl needs to be rescued from an abusive environment, they try to place her with us," Dukes said. "We try to pull them together emotionally and physically. We've started bringing in girls who are either pregnant or have a newborn child from the abuse. We have girls 13 and 15 now, and we're getting a 12-year-old."
Some come in with sexually transmitted diseases and all of them are severely traumatized, he said. One girl wouldn't talk for a month after her arrival, merely pointing to things she wanted because she learned that speaking drew attention to her and that usually resulted in something bad happening.
"She's just 8, but now she is laughing and screaming," Dukes said. "We try to create an environment to allow them to get their childhood back, and then the healing begins. It's a very happy campus, and it is really a big deal to have this playground come to us. We are very appreciative of the community for donating it.
"It's a very significant gift. It's more than a playground. It's a tool for healing and restoration and releasing the child to be a child again," he said.
The Parks Department's Recreation Superintendent Dan McGuire said the five hours of work by volunteers to remove the old playground saved the city about $3,000 to have a contractor remove it and take it to a landfill. The new Bicentennial playground equipment was supposed to be installed last week, but bad weather postponed it to this week.
The new playground will have a treehouse motif with elements resembling the tops of trees and some that look like tree trunks the kids can climb. Club Wonder is donating two features that are handicapped accessible: a Merry-Go-All, which seats four kids who spin it like a merry-go-round, and a full back swing, which has a harness for securing children in the seat.
The parks spent $25,000, with a 50 percent discount from Little Tikes, for most of the equipment and Club Wonder is paying about $16,000 for the two handicapped items and for the installation of rubber tiles for much of the area. The tiles are easier for wheelchairs and walkers to operate than the usual mulch.
Anyone wishing to donate to help pay the shipping costs for the old equipment to Guatemala can do so at the Kids Alive Web site at www.kidsalive.org/playground.