The healing power of play


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Transient

The bumpy road that winds through the arid hills of Sora Sora is under construction, so we all file out of the van to let our saint of a driver maneuver his way out of the ditch between the old road and the new. 

We find ourselves standing in front of a mud hut where three children play—two girls and a boy. Their faces are dirty, their clothes torn, and the conditions in which they play are filthy. We smile and say hello and watch as the construction workers try to help by pushing the van as its wheels spin, kicking up dust. 

Finally the driver succeeds and our translator warns us to get back into the van quickly because the children’s father appears to be drunk and is ambling his way toward us, at one moment laughing and another yelling.

As we climb back into the van one by one, several team members see something that makes them gasp:The father slaps his daughter across the face. 

Hard. 

Was it something we did? 

Should we try to intervene? 

A heaviness hangs over us for the next several miles. Just when it seems it will never lift, we pull into the local schoolyard to see dozens of children wearing orange World Vision scarves, waving homemade flags, and running toward us cheering. Many are decked out in costumes with painted faces.  They look a bit like the lost boys from “Hook.”

The children introduce themselves by teams. The boys call themselves the dinosaurios (dinosaurs), and their motto is “dinosaurs are the best!” The girls call themselves the conejitas (rabbits), and their motto is “we’re going to beat the dinosaurs!” 

 Each team has a captain who leads their respective troupe in a chant. The joy on their faces as they shout their chants, giggling now and then when the captain  makes a mistake, is as pure as any joy I have witnessed, and I am reminded once again that grace is a wild and untamed thing that can show up anywhere. 

The children perform a skit, complete with a two-person donkey costume that has us all in stitches. We are then invited to participate in several rounds of rambunctious games that leave us breathless from both the altitude and laughter. 

Remember the coolest, funniest, and most playful coach or teacher you ever had? Well this guy is Sora Sora’s version of that: 

Photo by Amy Conner, World Vision

Photo by Amy Conner, World Vision

Photo by Amy Conner, World Vision

His name is Paolo Basso and he runs World Vision’s after-school program that takes place in this schoolyard every Wednesday afternoon. You can tell that the kids adore him. 

According to World Vision staff, when the after-school program was first introduced in this area, the children were withdrawn, quiet, fearful. Many came from homes similar to the one we stopped at on the way in. Now the kids stay for hours, attracting curious parents and siblings who watch with smiles from the sides. 

Unlike the ADP (area development program) I featured in Monday’s post, which World Vision started thirteen years ago, the ADP here is new, and the after-school program just four months old. While Monday’s visit revealed the complete transformation of a community— better irrigation systems, food security, employment for both men and women, and most importantly, sustainability—Wednesday’s visit reveals only the first fruits of World Vision’s trickle-up approach.

It is an approach that is at once radical and practical, grounded in the belief that an investment in children can transform an entire community. 

Paolo explained that when you focus on celebrating children, parents too begin to prioritize them. When you teach children about sanitation, they bring those habits home with them. When you provide a place for the “dinosaurs” and the “rabbits” to gather, mothers are more likely connect and open up about the problems facing their families. When you observe the unique effects of malnutrition and poverty in the children of a particular community, you learn what sort of agricultural, economic, and educational advances need to happen in the future. And when a child gets a sponsor, funds are pooled together to make those advances happen in ways that affect everyone—mothers, grandmothers, fathers, teenagers, dinosaurs, and rabbits. 

Jesus always said the Kingdom would start small. 

As we play with the children, I notice that the captain of the “rabbits” exhibits remarkable leadership skills, giving directions confidently, without yelling. In an embarrassing attempt at Spanish, I ask Paolo what her name is. 

“Ah! You mean Alinda,” he says, his face lighting up with recognition and pride. “She is very bright. One of the brightest.” 

Transient

As we pull away from the school yard, I catch one last glimpse of Alinda, the words of Jesus come rushing to my mind:  

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. 
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 

The dinosaurs and the rabbits don’t need my pity; they need my help and my hope. And I believe with all my heart that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. 

Only 30 percent of the children in this after-school program have sponsors. Wanna be an honorary member of the “dinosaurs” or the “rabbits”?  Sponsor a child today

[Note: Tonight at 10 p.m. EST join the entire Boliva team for a LIVE STREAM in which you can ask all your pressing questions about Bolivia, child sponsorship, and what it's like to spend hours in a van with eight very opinionated bloggers]]

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