Alex Griffith doesn’t remember it, but he lived the first year of his life at a Siberian hospital in the city of Krasnoyarsk for abandoned children where the playground consisted of a single metal swing and an unkempt sandbox. Today, because of the efforts of Alex, the play area has slides, a climbing wall and dozens of other pieces, and has become a symbol of friendship and cooperation between two nations separated by an ocean and vastly different ideologies.
Alex was adopted in 1994 by Dwight and Jenny Griffith of Jarrettsville, Maryland. As he grew, the Griffiths shared their journal of their trip to Russia with their son. The photo of the stark and lifeless playthings moved Alex to launch the playground project.
For the past two years, Alex, his family, his Scout Troop 809 of Boy Scouts of America and the Bel Air Rotary Club, an organization whose leaders unite worldwide and provide humanitarian service, have worked to raise money for the effort. After collecting $62,000 from pit beef, candy sales and donations, there was enough to purchase 20 playground pieces and ship them, along with two 8-foot-tall wooden carvings of an eagle and a bear to style the entrance of the playground.
Alex celebrated his 16th birthday this month in the town of his birth, as he and several other volunteers completed their work. The project will almost certainly earn Alex his Eagle Scout badge, the highest Boy Scout honor. It has also generated good will, spawned friendships and led to the start of Siberia’s first Scout troop. One morning, when the Americans arrived on the construction site, they saw a Russian worker writing “U.S. + Russia = Friends” in the playground’s sandy base.