FORT WORTH — As students return to school and tell what they did in the summer, Faith Bruton’s story will probably stand alone.For just over a week in late July, the 17-year-old senior at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts, her family and a few friends assembled a playground at a school for physically disabled children, about 1,500 kids.In Africa.The slides and swings were built at St. Joseph’s School in Manzini, Swaziland, which sits on the southeastern edge of Africa more than 9,300 miles from Fort Worth.It was Bruton’s Girl Scout Gold Award project, which she came up with last year.“I thought, if I give them a playground, it would truly have a lasting impression on the school,” Bruton said.Luanne Bruton had some doubts about her daughter’s project.“This was going to be a difficult task,” Luanne Bruton said. “I kept telling her, ‘Oh, that’s good, but you don’t have to do this,’ but we continued to support her.”Bruton first came across the school two years ago when she accompanied her father, Garry Bruton, a TCU management professor, to Manzini on a family trip. Within a day or two, she and her mother volunteered to help out at St. Joseph’s.The school, founded in 1914, is for disabled, orphaned and vulnerable children and adults, ages 9 to 25.“We remain the only place in the whole country of Swaziland that caters to children with severe disabilities,” Nozizwe Ginindza, a school administrative assistant, said in an email. Ginindza is an assistant to the Rev. Angelo Ciccone, priest in charge of the school and mission. Swaziland has just over a million residents.Bruton and her mother spent just one day at the school in 2011, but it left a lasting impression.“I was really touched by the kids,” Bruton said.‘I decided on the playground’After returning to Fort Worth, Bruton contacted the African school to find out about pressing needs. School officials told her they needed plumbing work, a playground and clothes.“I didn’t think clothes would leave them with a lasting impression and I didn’t know how I would get the plumbing work done,” the teen said. “So I decided on the playground. It surely would be around for 10 to 15 years.”Last year, Bruton submitted her playground project to local Girl Scout officials, got it approved and started her campaign.“I kept telling her that she could do something here for her Gold Award,” her mother said. “But once she got it in her head, she followed through.”And she got plenty of help. Her family contacted Eric Strickland, founder of Grounds for Play in Mansfield, and he helped design the playground. Then came her church, Trinity Episcopal in Fort Worth.The church had a benefit dinner in April, and with the donations, Bruton raised about $8,000 for the playground.Her family then contacted Manzini volunteers who would be doing the work on it.“We loaded up some soccer balls and jump ropes and took off to Manzini in July,” Bruton said. “A few workers helped and of course the kids pitched in.”Within days, the children at St. Joseph’s had their first playground.‘It was sad to leave them’In the past, school officials said, they feared that the disabled children would get hurt playing outside because of rough terrain and ground overgrown with trees.“We are housing a lot of children that without proper and well-equipped sporting and play facilities, they’re robbed of their fundamental right to be a child,” Ginindza said. “The playground will allow us to achieve our fundamental goal which is inclusion.”Bruton got an added surprise in Manzini: Materials for the playground were cheaper in Swaziland, leaving her with extra money.That extra cash went to plumbing jobs at the school: 10 showers and 10 toilets were repaired.“It was sad to leave them,” Bruton said. “But I’ll always remember those bright smiles as they went down the slides.”Bruton acknowledged that this will be a summer to remember, and she’s still working on her project report to send to Girl Scout officials for the Gold Award.She starts back to school today.And what would Bruton have done with her time if she hadn’t helped build the playground this summer?“I would have probably watched a lot of Netflix,” she said.
Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763 Twitter: @mingoramirezjr