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Online Tools Let Playground Builder KaBOOM! Reach Overseas

Children at a KaBOOM playground in Washington
Children at a KaBOOM playground in Washington

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DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson.

This week we play new music from Taylor Swift …

And, answer a question about Veterans Day …

But first, a report on a group that has built hundreds of playgrounds in America and how it is now reaching beyond those borders.



DOUG JOHNSON: Back in nineteen ninety-five, Darrell Hammond read a tragic story in the newspaper about two children in a poor area of Washington, D.C. They had been playing in an old car because they had nowhere else to play. They got stuck inside and died from a lack of air.

Mr. Hammond was struck by the tragedy. Soon after, he and his friend Dawn Hutchinson established a non-profit group to build community playgrounds across America. The first went up that same year in Washington. In the fifteen years since, KaBOOM! has built almost two thousand community playgrounds. But KaBOOM!’s playground plans are not just for America. Faith Lapidus has more.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Mark White built his first non-American playground in Poland. He is known in that country as “Pan Plac Zabaw” or Mr. Playground. The project took place at an orphanage, a large housing center for children without parents. Mark White says the playground brought the wider community together. Families came to play. Orphaned children made friends with children they had never had the chance to play with before.

Mark White’s earlier work with KaBOOM! in the American Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina helped inspire and guide the playground in Poland.

MARK WHITE: “I thought couldn’t this playground model work elsewhere in the world? With Skype, and the Internet and cell phones? Couldn’t we do the same type of thing? So I looked at the eight steps of the roadmap that KaBOOM! uses to teach people how to build a playground, using community involvement. And went one by one and planned the playground there in Poland.”

Currently, Mark White is working on a playground in Nepal. That is the kind of story sure to make Laurence Hooper happy. He is Senior Director of Online Initiatives at KaBOOM! He takes everything KaBOOM! knows about building playgrounds and puts that information online in a simple, easy-to-use design.

He says there are fifteen years of playground-building knowledge available on KaBOOM!’s website. He says you can find checklists, design plans, even information about soil testing. Mr. Hooper also says visitors can post questions that KaBOOM! experts will answer. Or visitors can exchange information with other playground builders, no matter where they are.

LAURENCE HOOPER: “It’s astonishing. You hear stories about people using our tools in Nepal or in Africa. The power of the web is that it really does reach into every single corner and makes this knowledge available to someone who just goes onto a search engine and types a couple of words looking for this information. You know, they will find us.”

You can find a link to the KaBOOM! website on our website

Veterans Day

Soldiers mark Veterans Day with a wreath-laying ceremony in Afghanistan
Soldiers mark Veterans Day with a wreath-laying ceremony in Afghanistan

(MUSIC: “Over There”)

DOUG JOHNSON: Our listener question this week is from China. Albert Lee wants to know about Veterans Day. November eleventh is a day Americans honor men and women who have served in the United States armed forces.

World War One ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Germany surrendered at eleven o'clock in the morning on November eleventh, nineteen eighteen. The next year, President Woodrow Wilson signed a document declaring November eleventh as Armistice Day in the United States. It would be a day to honor the men and women who had served in the American armed forces during the war.

The United States now has more than twenty-three million veterans. The term "veteran" is not just for soldiers who have served in wars.

It describes anyone who has ever been in the military. On November eleventh, communities across the United States hold ceremonies to observe Veterans Day. Military bands play. Veterans march in parades. The president and other public officials give speeches.

Congress wanted the nation to hear the stories of its older veterans. Many veterans have reached old age. Each day, more than one thousand veterans die. So, in two thousand, Congress created a program to keep these memories alive for future Americans. It is called the Veterans History Project.

The project collects the remembrances of American war veterans and civilian workers who supported them. These collections are kept in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington.

The project collects remembrances of veterans who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War. It also includes veterans of the Persian Gulf War and conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Civilians who actively supported war efforts are also invited to share their valuable stories. Volunteers throughout the nation collect veterans’ stories for the Library of Congress.

You can hear more about Veterans Day Monday on the Special English program This is America.

Taylor Swift

(MUSIC: “Mine”)

DOUG JOHNSON: Taylor Swift is a singer, songwriter and musician who hardly needs an introduction these days. Her two thousand eight album, “Fearless,” won more awards than any other album in the history of country music. Taylor Swift is also the top-selling digital artist in music history. Not bad for a performer who is only twenty years old. Last week, Taylor Swift released her third studio album, “Speak Now.” Some critics say it may be her best yet. Katherine Cole has more.


KATHERINE COLE: That was “Dear John” from Taylor Swift’s latest album, “Speak Now.” Like most of her songs, this one tells about a deeply personal experience. Media reports say the song is about Swift’s failed relationship earlier this year with musician John Mayer. However, she has not publicly confirmed that the song is about him.

Online Tools Let Playground Builder KaBOOM! Reach Overseas
Online Tools Let Playground Builder KaBOOM! Reach Overseas

Taylor Swift does say in the album notes of “Speak Now” that she wrote each song with a person in mind. She says the songs contain the words she meant to say but didn’t. The next song, “Innocent,” was written with rapper Kanye West in mind. It is her answer to his behavior when he interrupted her award acceptance speech at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards.


Taylor Swift’s earlier albums were heavily influenced by country music. One reason for her huge success is that her music is popular with country music fans as well as with wider audiences. However, her new album shows that she is also at ease with other music styles. We leave you with “Back to December.”


DOUG JOHNSON: I’m Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Dana Demange, Jeri Watson and Caty Weaver, who also was our producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.