A little bit of kindness

With so many horrible things happening in the world right now, I find myself wondering why. What is the fundamental issue within some humans that allows them to behave in such ways? How can anyone possibly think that killing innocent people, innocent children is ok? Why do human beings do this to each other? My heart feels heavy and a familiar dull ache sets in. Back in August, I saw a photo of a Syrian man holding his baby who was just a few months old. They had just arrived by boat to a new country where they would be living in a refugee camp. This picture is the reason that I am here today. As I looked at the photograph, I wondered what kind of life this child would have. I wondered about the sadness and the anger that might grow in his little heart. I wondered if he would ever have a normal childhood full of love, laughter and of course play. Maybe he would. But it made me think of all the other millions of innocent children around the world that wouldn’t, because of war or poverty. Children are ours to take care of. They are our responsibility – the little seeds of our planet. How they are grown up will one day be reflected in how they shape our world.

The child in the main photo of this blog is Deepak. He was the greatest helper at the last playground, so eager to learn and get things done. He picked us chah toot (berries) and was always bringing us water. Deepak is a kind, sweet soul.

 

In a world that is currently so filled with violence and sadness, we can still choose love. We can all do something about this. We can choose to be kind to one another, and to ourselves. Be kind to strangers, be kind to your family. Be especially kind to those that cannot be kind in return, for they are the ones that need it the most. We see enough anger and hatred on the news. We don’t need anymore of it in our daily lives. Choose kindness and love, always.

We are currently working on the 6th playground of 50. So, nearly 12% done! The kids love to help with the painting especially. At the last school, once we had finished with painting the playground and it was time to clean up, they decided they weren’t done yet. They started painting their school – the brick wall and the concrete floor. I thought this was hilarious. Some people (the principal) didn’t. Building playgrounds here in India is much different than our experience in Uganda. The materials are a lot easier to come by here. Some days the workers don’t show up, and sometimes they do. The language barrier has proven to be the biggest challenge. But no matter what, the children are always so excited when the team first arrives and brings the materials in. That is something we can always count on. 

New Year’s Day camping with Boda Tony

Aside from the fact that it’s hotter than the hottest Vancouver summer, the Christmas holidays here are something very different. People really get into the spirit, 110%. We had our best New Year’s yet, spent with kids and Mother Nature. We decided that we would spend some time outdoors, so we asked around and got put in touch with a man named Tony. Tony is quite the character and our camping trip was at least 10 times more exciting, and 5 times more dangerous because of him. We like to adventure but Tony takes it to the next level. He had Reza riding up a steep, smooth rock face (see picture) on a gutless 100cc boda. Right before Reza started to head up, Tony shouted “YEA!!! I love crazy!!!”. Oh no. *gulp*. For a brief moment I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into, heading into the Ugandan bush with this man. Tony climbed trees with branches the size of my finger and scaled rocks that I wouldn’t attempt even with climbing shoes on. He has a heart of gold though, and we had so much fun with him. Some children from the village down below joined us to the camping spot, and we all hiked up to the top of a rock to watch the sunset together. The hike involved climbing to the top of a tree to jump onto the rocky summit, and the children all did it barefoot, as they had done dozens of times before. They are amazing little humans – so agile and capable, so peaceful and calm. The sunset from the top of the mountain was pure magic. There was a foggy haze on the horizon, which made the sun appear bright red. We all sat together and watched it sink closer down to the horizon. The wind gusted past, carrying with it little soaring birds. Monkeys were jumping in the treetops just below us. It was a special moment that I will never forget. Even the mysteriously huge piles of goat poop had their place up there.

collecting firewood
..
Later that night we had a bonfire near our camp with the children. They love to dance, so we played music and turned the camping spot into a dance floor. Tony had a headlamp and he was flashing it around to create that night-club feel. Totally worked. Man, he is funny. After dancing our hearts out, we made dinner on the coals of the fire and ate pasta as the stars showed up, along with the crescent moon. In the distance, in all directions, we could see fires. Some close, some far. Tony told us that these massive grass fires are started either by accident, for farming, or just because. It’s normal to see dozens of fires every day in the grasslands, especially in the dry season.
say cheese!
dinner

Playground update(!!): The swing set, merry-go-round, and seesaw are all being fabricated now by a local welder. We just ordered the timber for the main fort, and we know it’s going to be really, really awesome. Seeing as I never really grew up, coming up with ideas for the playground has been so easy, and so much fun. I think I might be more excited than anyone else to play on it once it’s finished

Christmas in Africa

For first time I experienced the real Christmas’ spirit of giving! and that was through some of the least fortunate people in the world. We decided to spend our Christmas with the children at the orphanage, and the journey turned out to be a lot more eventful and meaningful than we anticipated.

We took the only way of transport to Adjumani refugee camps, mini van. Very same old 7 seater mini vans we see at home, but here there was 12 of us got crammed in one. We couldn’t wait for the 40 plus degree ride with no AC, on a bumpy dusty road to end until we got stopped by the police. There are 2 main group of people travel through this road, locals who work for NGOs like UN, and the Ugandan’s army. So Sohnia and I, being the only muzungos (white people) and not part of a big organization, makes us a target for these police to make some money from. We got away this time, but it was getting scary when they tried to put us into their car and take us away. Once we arrived in Adjumani we met with someone from the orphanage and he took us the rest of the way in a little car through bush.

We got 70 ice cream cups for the children from the gas station, the only place that had ice cream. When we called the kids to come and get their ice cream, we didn’t see as much excitement as we were anticipating! That was because most of them never had ice cream… but it only took them the first bite 🙂

People here live in such spirit of giving specially for Christmas. We have never received such hospitality, generosity, and love. And that was from the people that had to flee from their country due to genocide and leave everything behind. They left everything and ran, but the one thing that they always keep is their enormous and beautiful hearts. Since people working in the orphanage knew we are coming, they hunted an antelope with spear, and offered us to eat for breakfast, never ate such a lean meat. Children were preparing food from the day before for people that are coming to visit them from the villages around. They wore the clothes that were donated to them for christmas and had the ceremony in their sacred spot, under the Tree! That tree!

Once they fled to Uganda’s border they were sent to this location. There was a big barbed wire area with only one tree and nothing else in it. That tree became their home, their church, their hope. Now they build some structures around the tree for kids to sleep and school.

Preparing food
Ceremony

The ceremony under the tree was the experience of the lifetime for us. Hundreds of people and children from villages around came there. Children had few performances for visitors. The beauty, love, and sharing there was unreal! It reminded me of Burning Man’s principals, radical inclusion and gifting. We prayed, sang, laughed and cried together. Only if I knew Christmas could be like this sooner!

After prayer we found a Boda and went back to Adjumani and bought cookies for the children that lived in the villages around and couldn not make it to the ceremony. They knew all about cookies and didn’t take us long to hand them all out.

Our only way back to Gulu was the roach bus! Once we found the bus we were stunned to see hundreds and hundreds of cockroaches running out of the bus door as if they just got to their destination! When they ticket guy saw Sohnia’s paled face, he said its ok, they are running away because we sprayed some chemical! Moo Moo sat the whole way keeping her feet off the ground, still every now and then roaches were climbing her to say whatzup!

The Power of Tuku

 

​The past few weeks really feel more like a few months, and looking back, I can’t believe all that has happened in such a short period of time. We adopted a puppy, swam in River Nile (well, Reza did..), taught the sweetest, brightest children numbers and writing, sent 1000 emails, ate 1000 chapatis, spent way too much time in internet cafés trying to arrange our next steps, saved a cow from being hit by a car (moo), danced in the street with locals, climbed, jumped, walked, walked more, tried, and tried harder. It’s been a roller coaster ride and I wouldn’t change one second of it. We’re just getting started! This is an interesting place and there is a lot to learn. We were told about the culture and traditions of the Dinka and Nuer people, and I was amazed by what I learned. For example, in Dinka culture, when a boy wants to be consider a man in his community, he can receive 3 cuts on his forehead. It is said that if the boy can withstand the pain of the wound, he is ready to be considered as a man, and can now speak up and be taken seriously. It was upsetting though, that we had to see the Dinka people in the refugee settlements in Adjumani District – a people with so much rich culture, having been displaced from their homeland in South Sudan. This is the case for many people in South Sudan. The conflict between the government and the rebels has led to tens of thousands of lost lives and displaced persons having to seek refuge in the bordering countries, mainly Uganda. Pagirinya refugee settlement is currently home to 45,000 people from South Sudan.

Pumba, the adopted puppy
water lineup in the settlement
children at Cornerstone Orphanage singing us a welcome song

While in the settlement, we were told graphic truths about what is happening just 10 km north across the border. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the day we went to the settlements. It was intense and heartbreaking, but also just so unbelievable. The government in South Sudan, armed by the United Nations, is killing innocent people. We were told that there is nothing anyone can do, and no one to turn to when their family members are killed. When the government, the military, and everyone else is corrupt, who do you turn to? No one. You just run. You get out of there.. This is what a group of 69 orphaned children had to do when the fighting in South Sudan escalated. Now, they are refugees as well. All of them lost their parents in the civil conflict. It is at this newly relocated orphanage in Adjumani District that we will be building the first playground. When we first arrived at the orphanage, the children greeted us with a welcome song! Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long, so it was just a brief meeting. But they are beautiful souls and we can’t wait to spend time with them, get to know them, and share our love with them. Finally, I feel like things are aligning just how they should. I can’t think of a better place for our first project. We are designing the playground and sourcing the materials locally from Gulu, and everyone (especially us) is very excited. Stay tuned. Oh, and “Tuku” is Acholi for PLAY!

The moment we said what the heck are we doing here!

 

Here is the summary of our missionfrom start until the moment today when Sohnia and I looked at each other and asked each other, what the heck are we doing here?!

Just a few months ago Sohnia and I decided to follow our dream, which is traveling the world and bringing love and play to the kids who are in need of a safe space to play. From there we start The Power Of Play, and going to bring play to kids by building them playgrounds.

Once we got set on that we decided to start somewhere somewhat safe and work with a big organization so we could make a living and learn from them while working on our own charity. But soon we realized getting a job or even volunteering with big organization won’t happen that easy and quick since we wanted to start our mission right away. Randomly we got in touch with a friend of a friend that started an organization in Uganda. Once we heard from her how autistic and disabled kids are treated in some villages there, we packed our luggag to join her organization as volunteers and build playgrounds for those kids. That didn’t work out since she went away and we lost contact with her.

There we decided to join workaway and help a local orphanage here and find locations to build playgrounds in the meantime.

As soon as we got here and started working with that local orphanage we found out this is more of a business to them than caring for orphans.

That was when we decide to go somewhere that we are sure we find children that really could benefit from playgrounds, so we planned to move to northern Uganda close to refugee settlements. After hearing it is not safe and easy to travel there as a civilian we contacted all the NGOs in that area. Out of 12 NGOs we contacted only one got back to us mentioning that we need documents and permits from Kampala before we could even enter the area.

After a day of running around in Kampala and getting into two Boda Boda accidents, I found out it will be minimum 2 months before we can get any paper work!

Camp life
Locals daily commute in heat
Refugee camps

Next thing was this morning. We got picked up by the uncle of the father of a guy we got introduced to by a friend we met here. He drove us with his Mercedes through all the check points, don’t ask how…

Later today Sohnia and I were 30 minutes away from the South Sudan border, in one of the biggest refugee camps in the country, looking at each other and saying what the heck are we doing here! Less than three weeks ago we were in Squamish, and now we are in midday African heat inside a refugee camp. We are negotiating with the army and the only person we know around here is the guy who drove us, whom we just met the night before. And,we don’t even know his last name.

And about an hour later we found the location that now we are going to build our first playground. We could not find any place better than that. All of the sudden it all made sense – this is why we are here.

Innocent

 The quietest boy I have ever met

taught me how to wash my clothes. He told me (after some gentle poking and prying on my part) that he wants to study medicine when he finishes high school. He will be a doctor, and he has had malaria 12 times, that he can remember. I’ve learned that to the locals, malaria is not much more than a bad flu. Many people will self-treat and only seek medical attention if it is a severe case of cerebral malaria (in the brain). Anyhow, we scrubbed our clothing in a bucket in the backyard of his home, in mostly comfortable silence. He re-washed the socks after me, insisting that I needed to “use force” while scrubbing them. I guess it all may seem trivial but in that moment, I was totally present and it was a beautiful reminder, a little tap on the shoulder to say that life is NOW. This moment.. this immeasurable speck in time that we refer to as ‘now’, is all there is. Being present is key. Anyway, the boy’s name is Innocent, but sometimes just Inno for short. Every evening when we return home, he is sitting in the same spot on the lawn. He really is the quietest boy I’ve ever met.

We took the children for a walk up Kyabazinga Hill to the palace, where the King resides once in a blue moon. The palace is a big, red soil-coloured residence surrounded by an even bigger wall, topped with curly barbed wire. The large gates at the front are manned by an armed guard. It all seemed intimidating at first but once we approached the soldier to see if we could, perhaps, enter the Kingdom, he was very warm and welcoming, even though he didn’t let us in. The man told us that to enter, we needed to get permission from the office in the village below, which wasn’t going to happen because it had taken us almost an hour hiking uphill in the scalding sun to reach this mighty destination. The soldier began telling us of all the different kings all across the land, and why they are great (or not so great). He told us why he loves Uganda, and how it is better than all the countries that border it. He spoke with passion, and I was quite into the conversation until from the corner of my eye, I saw Angel, the 3 year old girl in our crew, taking a pee right in front of the gate to the palace. Reza also noticed, so he began engaging the guard in more conversation to distract him. Luckily the guard didn’t notice.. Or at least if he did, he didn’t mention it.

Coconut.. Is that you?!
FullSizeRender-2
Making me pretty

We spend quite a lot of time with these children and it has really got me thinking about the orphanages here, and elsewhere in the world. Since arriving in Uganda, Reza and I have learned that some of these so-called “orphanages” are more like businesses. People will take in children (orphans, or children from family members and neighbours) to bring in funding and volunteers. It is not an honest practice. I have also been thinking about the impact of people coming and going in and out of these children’s lives, especially for the real orphans. For the really young ones like Judith and Angel who are both 3 years old, I know the impact is greater. They have people coming into their lives, staying for a few days or weeks, showing them unconditional love, and then disappearing, never to be seen again. While there is always the next person to come along and fill that gap, I still wonder about the impact this is having on their young, developing minds. Reza and I planned on staying here with this organization for some time, and maybe even starting our first playground project here, but we have since decided to move along. The children here are being taken care of, many volunteers come (and go), they all have food to eat and a bed to sleep in. They are receiving money from sponsors all around the world. We are happy that they are being taken care of. So, this past week we have spent a lot of time in the internet cafe, trying to organize our next move to Northern Uganda. We know that the displaced children in the refugee settlements are the ones for whom we want to create a safe space to play.  It hasn’t been easy trying to arrange this, and we have contacted many people and received very few responses. But, we are not disheartened. We are going to make this happen. Our vision remains clear and we are as determined as ever to bring it to life.

Mornings in Ugandan village

I can’t get over how much I love my mornings these days in this Ugandan village!

It starts with waking up to the neighbour’s rooster. He doesn’t crow just once, it goes on and on until the entire hood is up. First is hugging the children in the orphanage and brushing teeth all together in the yard. At first I was surprised to see that the kids love brushing their teeth, but after asking the owner of the orphanage, I found out why! They like toothpaste so much that they used to eat it as a candy. Once kids start eating, Moo and I walk to the only place in village that sells food to get the only thing they have one their menu, Rolex, eggs rolled in chapati (local bread) for 40 cents. Even if I had other options I would still eat that everyday. Then, we have a 30 minute walk to the road where we can get a bus or boda-boda (motorcycle) to town. In this half hour walk we get to see monkeys, goats, eagles, butterflies and some dinosaur-sized birds, but best of all, are all those people we get to see along the way. They all wave and say hello or laugh and call us Muzungu (white man) I never thought one day my hairy brown face would be considered a white man!

Kids in Orphanage
Rolex
Morning

Everyone is up from early morning here, thanks to the roosters! That includes kids; they are usually on water duty. Hauling 20L jugs of water with big SMILES on their faces. When they see us, they usually put their jugs down and wave. Sometimes when we give them candies, they curtsy! If they have a little friend close by that didn’t get candy, they will run, get him/her and run back with them to us, so they can get a candy too. Just like how we care about sharing in western countries!!

There is so much peace and harmony in their simplicity. Oh and safety is 3rd here, just the way I like it!

The love mission

 

This place is warm, inside and out.Time passes slowly.. Life moves slowly even during the the hectic rush-hour, with boda-bodas(motorcycles) and busses crammed full well above their maximum capacity racing by, honking – always honking. Amidst all of this, there is a slowness, a feeling that all is well. No one truly hurries in the same way we do ‘back home’. When we came here to Jinja, Uganda, we were happy with what we found.. Happy children. Playful children. Well-fed and watered children. We came to Jinja to work with an existing organization, so that we could learn valuable skills before we begin our own projects. So, now we plan to go north to the refugee camps housing thousands of people from bordering countries. Even though it has only been five days, I know that I will leave with a heavy heart. The children we are staying with are beautiful. One girl truly stands out for the both of us. Her name is Ruth and she is 11 years old. Ruth is currently the oldest of all eight children in the home, and she does a lot for the others, all of whom she really loves. She works hard to take care of them and because of this, she doesn’t always get to be the young girl that she is. But, yesterday something beautiful happened when we left the home with all of the children to go play. For the first time, I saw Ruth as the eleven year-old girl that she is. She was running and laughing and playing just like the other kids. I really can’t explain the feeling in my heart as I watched her. I was finally seeing her, free of responsibilities. She even came at me with ‘the claw’ and tickled me! Ruth is a beautiful, wise soul with the kindest of hearts.

FullSizeRender-2
FullSizeRender
FullSizeRender-3

Jinja has been warm and sweet. We found love in friends, children, goats and puppies. We found love in the mountains and the red soil. We found love in the lightning storms and the rainfall. We learned many things, the most important being that this beautiful life is truly a love mission after all.

Don't Miss out on our latest updates!

Copyright © 2020 The Power of Play. All Rights Reserved. Registered Non-for-profit. Business Number (BN) 740076898RC001