Visiting Our First School

Friday, March 28, 2008 | posted by Global Playground News |
Are children in Africa better off than they were a year and half ago when Global Playground did not exist? To answer that question, we traveled more than 7000 miles to visit with the children of six villages within the Wakiso District of Uganda. When we arrived, these children did not know our names. They barely understood from where we had come. They nonetheless immediately wrapped their arms around our legs and held our hands, for we had finally come. We were the ones. The ones who had brought them hope. The ones who had brought them a brighter future and a longer life. The ones who had brought them a school.

If you had joined us on our trip to visit the six villages that will benefit from Global Playground's first school, the following is what you would have experienced. So come and imagine the fanfare that would have surrounded your arrival and experience the hope that you--as a supporter of Global Playground--have brought to the children in Uganda. This is what supporting Global Playground is all about.

*****
As Global Playground's van turns off the main road and heads down a dusty, dirt road toward four of the villages, you see tropical trees and mud-sided huts flanked by chickens, pigs, and half-clothed children playing in the dirt. You bounce around as the van slowly makes its way down the pot-hole-ridden road, and you turn your attention to a woman and a child alongside the road. "We're coming! We're coming! Can you give us a ride?," the woman says. That instant you realize that the village leaders have gotten wind of your arrival and have "mobilized" their entire villages to greet you.

Turning quickly around in your seat to the sounds of cheers and laughter, you see a few children beginning to run full speed after the van. "Muzungu! Muzungu!," they cry out after seeing someone different looking than themselves for perhaps the first time in their lives. Those children are then quickly joined by others who dart out from the tropical trees lining the road. Soon a hundred or more children are running full speed after the van, cheering and waving. Upon reaching the school, you see a large crowd, numbering in the hundreds, all gathered in a clearing. The emotions are overwhelming. Tears begin welling up in your eyes as the cheering and clapping outside the van reaches a crescendo.

Thunderous applause and cheers greet you as you step out of the van. You are quickly surrounded by dozens of children whom you begin greeting. Shaking hands quickly becomes difficult, as a few children grasp onto your legs and hold onto your arms. The next thing you know you are escorted to furniture set up in a clearing shaded by banana trees. The furniture is not fancy by any means, but it's the best they have; they've carried it from a mile away or more and covered it with delicate croqueted linens peppered with holes. You sit like a celebrity amidst hundreds of people whom you had never met.

As you sit, you see workers laying brick for the school in the African heat and the beautiful colors of the dresses worn by the African woman glistening in the sun; they have worn their best for your arrival. The village leader introduces himself and members of the construction committee. In the native tongue, he speaks about how thankful his village is for the school and Global Playground's efforts, which have brought his village much hope. You are then asked to stand and introduce yourself. The emotional outpouring leaves you at a loss for words, but words need not be conveyed. You are the one. You are part of Global Playground. You are the one who has helped bring them a school.

"Happy we are . . . Happy we are today!," one group of children comes forth singing while swaying and swinging their arms. Another group follows, kicking up the dirt and shrugging their shoulders to "Ca . . . lyp . . . so!" Yet another group follows. They point to themselves while cheerfully and melodically proclaiming, "We . . . We are the futcha leaders of Ganda." There you sit, attentively watching group after group of girls and boys welcoming your arrival with singing and dancing. For nearly an hour, you see their parents proudly watching and clapping along with their children. Then out of the trees a man emerges carrying a linen-covered tray full of sodas; he hands you one. Seeing the abject poverty of these people, you realize the significance of this gesture and drink every last drop. Fully refreshed, it's now time for you to sing a song or two and learn how to dance the African way. Your songs are much different than theirs and evoke much laughter and applause, only to be eclipsed later by the laughter brought about by your feeble attempts to shake your hips to the beat of the music.

You are then invited to tour the school, which is under construction. The children follow eagerly behind you as you make your way down the red dirt road and into the school's courtyard. As you walk around the school, two little boys hold your arm while a girl holds your hand. One of the boys then introduces you to his father who is standing on lashed-together log scaffolding and laying brick for the school. "I work here without pay so my son can learn and have a bright future. He will get the education that I could not," he says. Continuing to walk around the school, you see a child piling bricks into a wheelbarrow and driving it around to the back of the school where his father is working. He makes several trips, with the wheelbarrow precariously close to toppling over each time. At one point, you stop and help him push the wheelbarrow over a large bump. Without saying a word, he continues on, focused on the task at hand.

With the sun setting, you say goodbye to your new friends. "Welaba! Webare! Webare!," they say in their native tongue while cheering and waving. On the hour's drive back to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, you replay the day's events in your mind. Only if you could do more than you have. The need is greater than you could have imagined.

The next day, you visit the other two villages whose children will attend Global Playground's school. Like the day before, you are emotionally overwhelmed by the village members cheering your arrival. Again, you sit in the shade on the finest furniture brought from their houses. Again, you are treated like a celebrity and listen to the village leaders. "So I got the information of you coming here today . . . but I had a problem. . . . I was around nine miles away so I rushed from there so that I meet you here. I am very glad to meet you. Thank you for your coming. I heard you are building a school to develop our area . . . . So I thank you for that. You have many kids here who are orphans and not orphans who will benefit from that school. And more so we parents because as you see we are poor somehow but trying to develop. I am proud to let you know that we are a collaborator village. . . . So we are ready to collaborate with you in whatever kind of things."

After the village leader speaks, you are treated to sugar cane, jack fruit, and another festive celebration. A solo drummer beats his drum, as groups of boys and girls come forth, singing and dancing in brightly colored, yet tattered, clothing. Around their waists they wear brightly colored sashes, which are worn only during special occasions. As clouds of dust fill the air from the dancing, you are told that many of the songs have been specifically prepared for your arrival. They sing: "We are overjoyed that you are here. We did not believe you would ever come."

After the singing and dancing, several mothers come forth to sit on the ground before you. They do not say a word but begin weaving crafts--elaborate baskets and mats. The baskets are in beautiful green and white geometric patterns and made of banana fibers. The village leader invites you to inspect their work and to ask them questions. It takes nearly an entire day to make a basket, which will earn only 5,500 Ugandan Shillings or $3 at market. The village leader proudly announces that these mothers came together and traveled dozens of miles to attend a workshop so they could learn how to make crafts. Their driving purpose: to sell their goods at market so their children can have books and school supplies at the Global Playground school.

A few children then invite you to tour their village. Snapping a few pictures, the children are fascinated by your digital camera. Several times they request their picture to be taken, nearly all never having seen a photograph of themselves. You graciously accept their request and take their picture. No one recognizes themselves in the picture until their friends point them out. They then laugh and smile and tug at your hand to get a closer look. At times, you allow them to snap a few pictures of their own; they quickly adapt to the technology and are eager to learn. During your tour, your discussion turns from how they live, to how they farm, to football--their version of soccer. "Do you like to play football?," you ask. "Mmmmm . . . yes," they answer while raising their eyebrows and lifting their chins to the sky. "But we have no ball."

You return to the center of the village and show the children the school supplies that you have brought for them. You hold up crayons, pencils, globes, calculators, construction paper, and scissors. You hand each child a pencil. Child after child clutches his or her new possession with two hands and pulls it in tight to his or her heart as an expression of happiness, excitement, and an insatiable eagerness to learn. With the globes, you show them where you live and, for perhaps the first time, where they live in our world.

After seeing two days of festive singing and dancing, you could not have imagined a more lively welcome. But then Global Playground presents an African drum that it had bought for $12 at a craft village in Kampala. Wow! Upon presenting the drum, all those who are gathered around go wild. It's as if the villages had won the Super Bowl! A lady holding a baby jumps up and down while others cheer and do an African call much like the sound of a child imitating a native American. The village's designated drummer is so elated; the new drum is much larger than the old one he began the day with. He takes hold of the new drum, thrusts it into the air, places it between his legs, and immediately begins tapping out a beat. He passes his old drum to a child who has been longing to be a drummer too. As the drummer vigorously taps out rhythms and beats, everyone dances. The mothers and grandmothers come to the center and begin dancing; the children laugh at the unusual sight. Two men are then recruited to dance and fashioned with the colorful sashes that are traditionally worn by the women on special occasions. This brings even more laughter and excitement. At the end of the song, the village leader enthusiastically pounds out a few more beats, takes the drum, and thrusts it once again into the air. He places the drum down and empathically says, "We should not take this drum for granted. This drum should motivate us to go and work in Buwasa on the school! It is a gift to show everybody that it is not only a drum but part of a bigger thing which is the school in Buwasa. Go and help build the school!"
*****
Global Playground's school in Uganda will officially open in May 2008, in time for the beginning of the second semester. For many of the children living in the six villages within the Wakiso Distrct, they will step inside a school for the first time in their lives. For the remaining children, they will no longer have to endure the six mile walk to and from school to gain the education that they know will improve their fortunes, prolong their lives, and raise them up from the clutches of poverty. These children now have Global Playground's school. It is their own.

We could not have built the Uganda school without supporters like you. On behalf of the children in the six villages within the Wakiso District, we pass along their message of wholehearted thanks. You are their celebrities. You are the ones. The ones who have brought them a school.

Inspired by our trip to Buwasa, we will not stop there. We are on to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where we are building a middle school. We are also on to Thailand and then to other countries. Can you imagine the impact that your support of Global Playground will have in these countries?
-Doug Smith

To make a donation online or for more information, visit our Web site at http://www.theglobalplayground.org/.

A New Christmas Tradition

Tuesday, March 04, 2008 | posted by Global Playground News |
What is the recipe for the best Christmas ever? For some, the warm and sleepy feeling of a stomach full of Christmas cookies and other delights. For others, a shortage of outlets to plug in their new gadgets. For the Beard family in western Virginia, largely dispensing with exchanging gifts this past Christmas and instead collectively making a donation to Global Playground.

As wads of tattered wrapping paper were trashed and gifts were jammed into trunks the Christmas before, Gwen Beard's brother-in-law, Dale Poynter, suggested that the Beard family adopt a new family tradition. Instead of just giving "stuff," he said, perhaps they should adopt a new family tradition of giving one present each and focusing their remaining gift-giving efforts on a charity. This suggestion struck a chord with Gwen who had long desired to move away from accumulating more "things" to giving gifts that continued to benefit others.

Which charity should receive their donation though? The choices were many. As the Beard family evaluated several charities, they were passionate about making sure that their donation would continue to have an impact long after Christmas. They also wanted to focus on a charity that receives relatively less attention during the holiday bell-ringing season. And so, with this agreed criteria, Gwen suggested Global Playground, and the rest of the Beard family wholeheartedly agreed.

With Global Playground selected, the new Christmas tradition was set into motion. Gwen, a grade school teacher, took information she received from Global Playground and created booklets for her family to learn about the communities they would be touching. The nine family members then arrived on Christmas day with just one present to place under the tree, an envelope in hand containing their donation, and a less stressed disposition due to a shorter shopping list. Each family member handed their envelope over to Gwen's mother who tallied the donations. This was the moment for which Gwen had been waiting. "I was so excited I couldn't stand it. I couldn't wait to see what we had done," she recalled. "I hoped it was a lot of money that would make a difference that would go on and on."

As a family with little travel experience in the developing world, the new tradition sparked both enthusiasm and interest. Gwen and Jeff, Gwen's son, expressed remarkable enthusiasm toward Global Playground and are hopeful that at some point they will be able to see firsthand the communities their family is helping. The new tradition also resulted in friends, other family members, and students becoming interested in Global Playground and its projects in Uganda and Cambodia. Jeff noted, "While we didn't toot our own horns, our friends were very intrigued and excited." Gwen's students also became intrigued when Gwen explained during a unit on Africa that her family's new Christmas tradition would give more than three hundred children in Uganda the opportunity to attend school for the first time.

To date, this was the best Christmas ever, according to Gwen. The Beard family agrees that they should repeat it again next year . . . perhaps with a new twist!

-Kerry Loughran

If you have undertaken a novel fundraising effort for Global Playground, we would love to hear about it. Feel free to call us at 1-800-998-9348 or write us at info@theglobalplayground.org.