Marcus grads build playground in Namibia

They may seemingly be a world away, but two former Marcus High School graduates are bringing a taste of every-day play time to Namibian children.

The former southern Denton County couple, who met in high school and later married after graduating from Texas A&M in 2010, is working with the Peace Corps, stationed in Namibia in Africa where they teach school. The Peace Corps, which sends Americans abroad to help people around the world, began in 1961. To date, it has sent more than 215,000 volunteers to around 139 countries. Tim and Lindsey Habenicht are two of about 7, 209 currently serving, according to the Peace Corps.

Recently, the couple took on an additional task — building a playground from scratch. And it took them about three months.

How it began
With a background in civil engineering, Tim Habenicht took on the task of figuring out the specifications for building a playground. He and the youngsters rolled huge tractor tires found by a volunteer at a nearby prison to the chosen playground site. Metal bought with funds donated by a former employer, Gorrondona & Associates, soon became the foundation for a swing set, bridge, slide, monkey bars, a climbing area and more, he wrote in a blog about the experience.

The village in Namibia where they teach school is remote. After securing the 50 six-meter metal beams, 10 bags of concrete to set them in and 15 planks of wood for the swing seats, bridge and other elements, the question soon became “how do we get it from the city to the village?”

Fortunately, Tim wrote, employees from Buildit (which he calls the Home Depot of Namibia) offered to send the materials via semi-truck minus the expensive shipping costs that easily could have stopped the effort.

Soon, it was time start building.

“I figured if I could put a set of Legos together, then I could certainly build a massive playground, right?” Tim wrote.

Though he had no tools, a teacher from another school lent tools for the project, including a welder. Soon, Tim was welding and sawing, though he’d never touched a welding machine before.

His instructions for using the machine to melt welding rods were simple: “Melt it in the cracks.”

But soon, he learned it was a bit more difficult than the instructions indicated.

A playground?

The idea for a playground came while teaching classes. With school for the elementary students finished two hours before the older students, the youngsters would run around the school screaming, chasing each other, looking through school windows and distracting students still studying.

Tim and Lindsey, knowing of the importance of play time for students in the U.S. and other cultures, realized a playground might just be the ticket to giving the younger set an outlet for their energy.

As the form of the playground began to take shape, crowds of young and old stood nearby, puzzled, Tim wrote. What were these people doing? What is this thing they are building?
The concept of playgrounds was foreign to the villagers.

“When I tried to explain what I was doing, I was often met with a blank stare of confusion,” he wrote. “Ohhhhhhhh,” they would reply. But no, they didn’t really know what I was talking about. And how could they? Playgrounds are not a thing here.”

Finishing up
The project took a little longer than planned. Being remote, the nearest town to buy supplies was Rundu, near the border of Namibia and Angola. When welding rods broke or other supplies ran low, work stopped until the next run to the larger community.

Soon, it was time to paint.

Today, the multi-hued playground adds a burst of color to the mostly sandy area with bright blues, sunny yellows and vivid reds.

And, when the elementary school students finish their lessons, they run directly to the playground where they climb up to the wooden bridge, slide down and swing as high as they can on the swing set.

It’s also a little quieter for the older set still studying their lessons in school.
The playground sits behind the school away from the classes in session.
The idea worked.

“…when the kids are released from school, they bolt straight for the monkey bars and away from the classrooms.”

Meanwhile, Tim and Lindsey are relieved to have the project completed.

“I haven’t even cracked a book in the last three months,” he wrote. “But now that my afternoons are free, it will be nice to relax again.”
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